You probably noticed yesterday, the very strong message coming from frustrated BA travellers, that no one was helping them, listening to them, or in any way handling their complex problems.
From a BA staff perspective, this was a day from hell. Thousands of upset, disrupted, needy passengers, all asking for information, wanting substitute flights, hotel rooms – and of course there was very little that the people on the ground could do about any of it.
So they retreated into back rooms, turned off phones, kept out of the way.
It’s a classic scenario that is repeated every time there is a disruption or a disaster.
Interestingly, the railway and underground companies are moderately better at passing on information. They tell you what the stoppage is caused by, and try to give updates.
But the medium they use is a loud speaker. There is very little social media information, apart from that being passed on by other passengers.
So what would have improved the situation for yesterday’s frustrated BA travellers? Information would certainly have helped. The argument could possibly be that BA were overwhelmed by the size of the IT failure and the repercussions – but British Airways is a big company and should have disaster recovery in place. It is as important to be seen to be responding. For BA, non-essential staff should have been manning phones, and help desks, and crucially, posting real-time updates to the social media channels their customers would be using. They should have been well trained to do this. Activation of the disaster teams should have been quicker.
The media fall-out from a crisis such as BA experienced is massive, and difficult to recover from. The mother of a bridgegroom travelling with a big party to a wedding, said, in tears, that they chose BA because it was “the best airline in the world” – to use their own marketing. Otherwise they would have flown with Whizz Air. Choosing the best in the world didn’t help them. The group, from Newcastle, and containing a number of elderly people, were stuck without overnight accommodation and no certainty that they would get a flight the next day. As they were featured by the BBC they probably did, but what about the rest of the travellers?
BA’s IT glitch was massive. It could have happened to any company. Problems occur. Which highlights the importance of leaving customers feeling that everything possible had been done for them in the circumstances, rather than that nothing was done to make it better.
Mike Davies, VP Business Partners at customer experience company Quadient said: “This isn’t the first time IT problems have affected holidaymakers, and it won’t be the last. When this kind of situation is unfolding, airlines’ top priority will be to resolve the computer problems, but the customer experience provided to passengers waiting at terminals and heading to airports is also crucial. When flights are interrupted, one of the biggest common criticisms from customers is that they are unable to get hold of information; often they are forced to rely on snippets of second-hand information from social media and live TV news broadcasts to build an understanding of what’s going on.” He suggests three step airlines should follow:
- “Firstly they must open the lines of communication across channels people will actually be using – regular push notifications and social media updates will get information to the customers worst affected.
- “Secondly, be prepared to seek outside help: if an airline’s own IT system is incapable of communicating with customers, it should be calling in communications experts to help.
- “Finally they should also communicate proactively and clearly in the aftermath, providing personalised messages that explain to passengers exactly what happened.”