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British Airways’ Problem Wasn’t The IT Failure – It Was Their Communication

Recently, British Airways suffered such a serious IT issue that there were no flights for nearly 24 hours, on one of the busiest single days of the year. What will be remembered will be the pictures of delayed passengers, waiting in very orderly queues that snaked out of the terminal, along the taxi ranks and out into the car park. Listening to what passengers were saying, to reporters and on social media, their frustration and increasing anger was less about the delays and more directed at the lack of any communication they were receiving from the airline; they wanted to know what was happening, why it was happening and an idea about when it was going to be resolved. It was the hottest day of the year, families were going on holiday and one man interviewed was taking his mother abroad to celebrate her 80th birthday – and they hadn’t even been offered a bottle of water. Lack of any available staff at the airport to talk to, added to the perception that the airline had contempt for their customers.

The big issue here isn’t the IT failure. Things will go wrong and continue to go wrong; It’s the level of displeasure the customers experienced and the little or no communication they received from British Airways that is the problem.

Modern expectations are at such a level that when 24 hour delivery of an item ordered on-line gets closer to 36 hours, then we are dissatisfied. Customer expectations are always rising – the cliché that today’s added value is tomorrow’s expectation has never been truer, particularly to a generation that expects instant gratification.

But if communicated with properly, people are surprisingly understanding when there are failures in systems, deliveries don’t arrive on time and things go wrong.

Great customer care isn’t created by laying down rules or setting up a process; customers are best served by staff free to use their common sense; Timpson’s which has survived and thrived on the High Street while other businesses have disappeared, has done so by being close to their customers and empowering all branch staff to make decisions for them. Branch staff also have total freedom to serve each individual customer in the way they want (and as a customer, that shows every time I go into any of their shops) and have the authority to spend up to £500 for a complaint without approval from the boss.

The airline staff apparently couldn’t or wouldn’t even offer a free bottle of water to stranded passengers; they can’t all have been fixing the IT. Nor the CEO, who chose to make a You Tube video to say sorry rather than be interviewed on live television.

So, in today’s world communication becomes even more critical: the Chairman of the ENO, Harry Brünjes, recently said, “The one thing that unites all the disciplines I’ve worked in is good communication – be it in order to ready yourself for a performance backstage, or having the right answers on figures in the boardroom”. Communication to customers by front line service providers – and communication between different departments and functions that support the external customer- is critical.

Communicating with customers – from greeting them (whether in person, on the phone or by email) to understanding their needs, issues, explaining the what and the why – and ensuring the customer has been heard and understood, should be easy. When there is bad news to deliver, service providers sometimes hope that the problem will go away or not be noticed; they in turn disappear, put their phone onto voicemail or don’t respond to emails. So the problem escalates and the result can be a cost to the business, future business (lack of – we all have choice) and damage to the company’s reputation.

The skill of giving bad news, of being honest – and sincere – with the customer is one that can be learnt and applied to great effect.

Jenny Powell, Co-Founder, Miradorus

At Miradorus we believe communication is the hidden secret to business success and we are on a crusade to help everyone understand how communication affects us inside and out. If you’d like to know more about how to communicate more powerfully and effectively just drop us a line.

Introduction to Miradorus

Delivering service excellence is paramount in today’s interactive marketplace. The old adage that ‘good news travels fast’ has never been so true but we all know bad news travels even faster. A disgruntled customer is now just a click away from sharing their experience with hundreds of others. Customer loyalty isn’t what it used to be either, with those dissatisfied simply taking their business elsewhere. Poor service is cited as the number one reason why customers switch their allegiance. Businesses that succeed in satisfying their customers must go the extra mile and take ownership of the customers’ issues. Every member of staff can make a difference to the customer experience, ensuring a positive first impression in every interaction, asking the right questions at the start to ensure a complete understanding about what the customer really wants. This is where we come in.

Why choose Miradorus?

Helping organisations, teams and individuals learn what, why and how to change their service culture is at the heart of the Miradorus methodology. We have 20 years’ experience working with our clients – across multiple market sectors – to improve service effectiveness, through training, development and consultancy. Ninety-five per cent of our work is referrals based so if we don’t help you succeed, we don’t either.

Example of what they do on the day / as the service

Typically the Miradorus Service Excellence model is rolled out in four phases: initial data collection and stakeholder interviews, followed by the creation of a high-level delivery plan and a series of workshops to offer practical guidance and training in live situations. These workshops are developed to address the different learning styles of adults and are based on our 4As:
  • Acquisition – Of skills, concepts and knowledge
  • Application – Tailored to each participants’ work situation
  • Action – Putting what they learn in each module into practice
  • Assessment – continuous measurement of how effective the training has been.
  • Create a foundation and language to support individual and team development
Each workshop is highly interactive. We ensure that participants understand a new skill before they are asked to put it into practice in a non-threatening learning environment. We then give them the chance to apply the new skill in real, day-to-day situations. In our experience, repeated practice of skills and behaviours is the only way they can reliably be taken back to the job.