Monday, February 17, 2014

How British Airways failed to use the information they have

Having worked with companies a lot in the past few years on how to create a better customer experience and in-particular through MDM to help effectively identify the customer I know just what is possible even in very challenging environments.  The Airline industry is not one of those areas but today with British Airways I received another example of how a company might have all the information required to deliver a good customer service but chooses not to provide that information to where it counts.

I was flying into Heathrow, on a transatlantic flight I booked recently, I'd originally planned to head into London and from then on to Paris via train but checking the prices it turned out flying was cheaper and as I was already at Heathrow it seemed the smart and good corporate citizen thing to do, so I made another booking.

So lets see what BA knew about me at this stage....

  • All of my passport information - the goldest of gold standards
  • My frequent flier, with shiny gold card indicating I need to get out less
  • All my flights with them in the last 10+ years
  • How many times I've missed a flight with them due to my own fault (zero)
  • How many times weather or their issues have caused me to miss a flight (was 3, now 4)

So in the text book of Consumer MDM they have the perfect set of source data to identify the individual (the passport) and a unique number the customer wants to give out (frequent flier ID).  It really couldn't be easier in a world where the ticket (which has the ID) and the gate (which scans the passport) to identify the individual.

They also had two bookings.
One that flew out on a Sunday and was due to land at 2pm on Monday, and a return leg for Wednesday (seriously I need to get out less. 
One that flew from Heathrow to Paris at 15:15 on Monday and returned on Wednesday
 Shared across these bookings are my details, indeed when my iPhone downloaded the two boarding passes it automatically paired them together as a single journey.

So what did BA do?  Well the flight into Heathrow was delayed, but I still had 45 minutes to make the connection.  There were a couple of others on the flight racing for the same flight... I reached the connections check-point first to be told:
You've been taken off the flight
The couple behind me (same inbound, same connection) were let through... this irritated me somewhat but it was only when I got to the rebooking desk that irritation turned into disbelief and outright annoyance.
BA: You missed the conformance check. 
Me: I was on the flight from Phoenix, you knew that
BA: We can't see that its on a separate booking
Me: With your airline, made with your website
BA: Yes but its a separate booking
Lets be clear, I like BA, I like the service from the individuals but this is a great example of how a company fails to leverage the information it has to deliver a decent customer service.  Its not giving its people the right information, information it has, to make the right decisions.

My iPhone automagically recognised that a flight taking off from an airport less than 2 hours after I landed from a previous one was part of a single journey, independent of how many booking IDs there were.  BAs systems have this information, I can see it in my Exec club profile, but at the front line they see only the booking.

Now the smart thing would be for BA to have a very simple check on bookings that says 'if bookings land and take off from the same airport within a set period, say 4 hours, we should consider them as one booking so our airport staff can see what is going on'.  At the very least the people at the airports should have access to all my flight bookings so before they kick a customer, and one they've marked out as a priority customer, off a flight the person can check 'wonder if there is an inbound they are on that we know about?'.

This is truly a great example of a company undermining its excellent customer service by not providing its staff with the information to deliver it.  This isn't about a lack of information, its not even about a lack of good quality information, its about the inability to integrate that information into the business processes where it is needed.

Disclaimer: I actually did a bunch of work for BA several years ago around and other customer facing parts of the business.  

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