British Airways had a power supply issue at one of their UK data centres which stopped all check-in and operational systems over the last bank holiday weekend. The investigation is focusing on human error.
This is odd when it is expected BA would have back up systems in place. When commercial planes have backups to fly as part of their strict procedures, an airline must be able to follow that principle with good backup and disaster recovery plans on the ground.
But the greater lesson for British Airways is the Customer Experience (CX) failure.
As 75,000 people were stranded in Heathrow and Gatwick airports, passengers were “trying not to cry”. Baggage was separated and sent to other destinations while passengers were stuck. Passengers were left with no information, sleeping on floors, and shops ran out of food over the bank holiday weekend.
That is unacceptable at a time when customer experience will overtake product and price as a key brand differentiator by 2020 (1). This is becoming obvious now!
The United Airlines video in April of a passenger dragged off a plane went viral and became global news. This is a prime example where social media and smartphones give customers the power to shine a spotlight on failings in the customer experience. Companies need to be aware this attracted far more bad publicity than any technology failing.
IT systems now must be a part of a plan for Customer Experience, which should include a process on how to look after customers when things go wrong. The fact BA left 75,000 people stranded says more about the company than the IT failure itself.
The airline industry is so highly competitive now. It is too easy for customers to move and book between companies. Customer loyalty programmes are being replaced by customer perception based on experiences, reviews and social media that spreads quickly.
British Airways had a perfect opportunity to show their focus in how they handled their customers. But instead, they focused on the disaster (with a ‘defensive’ and ‘impersonal’ apology).
Any business can be excused for down time. But how a business handles the customer experience is what affects the perception of their brand.
In 2016, Accenture’s study Digital Readiness for Customer Experience in the Airline Industry found airline executives specifically struggle on the area of customer experience and ‘how to make it happen’.
“Despite the advances that digital technologies have already enabled, the airline industry is still missing out on opportunities to better interact with its customers”
- Jonathan Keane, Accenture Aviation managing director.
Airlines can learn from consumer business leaders such as Amazon where they can directly communicate with customers and offers unique, personalised experience in real time.
The purpose of technology innovations should be part of a wider customer experience plan.