Business Recovery: What BA did wrong, and how you can learn from their mistakes

08 August 2017 -

British AirwaysBritish Airways’ IT malfunction left thousands of passengers stranded in airports over a busy holiday weekend. Then it compounded the problem by messing up in its business recovery response. If you respond generously, a customer service slip-up can be turned into a positive. Here’s how to do it right

Guest blogger Adrian Furnham

British Airways is in a serious situation. Not only have they lost a huge amount of money but also they have seriously alienated and disenchanted a great many passengers

Worse they seem to have forgotten a lesson they had learnt in their glory years: the importance of business recovery. Paradoxically a cock-up increase loyalty to a brand.

Logic says that if you experience bad service where you go to Johannesburg and your luggage to Jakarta you never fly that airline again. Not bad service but an error, an accident… things the travel sector seem to do rather well and rather frequently.

Yet there are seriously researched case studies which show that if a particular “service delivery” fails in some way, but is recovered, (put right, compensated for) people are more happy with the company than if the error never occurred.

A small spillage so you get a free dessert, a late pizza and you get it free. A ten hour delay, free economy tickets for another flight. Lost bags so free upgrades for 6 months

Business Recovery is serious issue: the subject of Harvard Business Review stuff. The argument is that investment in business recovery is really important.

You can turn a dissatisfied customer to be either an evangelical, proselyte for your organisation or the precise opposite: a marketing terrorist. Currently BA seems hell bent on the latter.

That is why hotel staff in some upmarket chains are given £100 in cash or more to help with business recovery. Little things go wrong: they need to be fixed quickly, without fuss, complaint letters and the like. They neither have to spend it or even account for it in detail.  They do not have to use their discretion as to why, why and with, whom the money is spent.

So why don’t organisations take this more seriously?

There are three difficult issues: first, sorting out fraudsters, time-wasters and professional complainers who are there just to milk the system; second, matching the compensation with the discomfort without breaking the bank; third, realising that just getting the “pissoffedness”  is part of the deal and the therapy and costs nothing but is not much fun.

Perhaps the one reason senior managers pull the plug on the whole exercise, or at any rate gradually starve it of resources, is the image of the greedy, dissimulatory, professional complainer out to exploit the system for freebies.

These types are well known as they attempt to cause maximum fuss or embarrassment to achieve compensation, completely out-of-proportion to any discomfort, inconvenience or even injury.

They do exist and are a pest.  But the question is the proportion of the dishonest to honest complainer. If the former outnumber the latter there may be a good case to reject the business recovery ideas.

Big airlines know it is their business class frequent flyer who really brings in the revenue.  Most have plenty of choice. And, better, they choose but don’t often pay for their ticket.  They need to be nurtured. They are busy, tired, and stretched but also rich.

The trick is trying to differentiate between the professional complainer and the genuine recipient of bad service. Gold card holders have their complaints taken more seriously of course.  And so be it. BA has the data: this is when they need to use it.

Interestingly the complaining business can itself be cathartic. But that depends on the skills and the attitudes of the staff who are the recipients of the complaint.

Those fly-on-the- wall television programmes at airports illustrate this perfectly. They also show how miserable the job can be. But they need to remember the power of the brand terrorist who not only never buys your product or service again but broadcasts it to many,  many others acting as the worst possible word-of-mouth that you could conceive of.

The moral of the story for travel service organisations. Shit happens. Amen.

But you can compensate emotionally and materially. And you can turn an indifferent traveller into a brand ambassador by righting a wrong quickly, courteously and sensitively.

Or you can breed a brand terrorist happy to trumpet the fact they will never fly with you again.

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