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Posts Tagged ‘British Airways’

Wearables – the customer experience impact

March 19, 2014 2 comments

Wearable technology is increasingly blurring the lines between the real and virtual worlds. Existing augmented reality apps add extra layers of information, such as descriptions, when you point your smartphone at particular buildings or objects. Wearables take this a step further, removing the need to use a phone or tablet as you can automatically receive information or access services through smart technology, such as Google Glass.

Google Glass

As this adds new depths to the user’s experience, it isn’t surprising that organisations are looking at how they can incorporate it into the customer experience, while improving service levels. Airline Virgin Atlantic has just finished trialling Google Glass in its Upper Class Wing at Heathrow airport. Concierge staff were equipped with the devices, which they used to start the check-in process and update passengers on their latest flight information, weather and local events at their destination, as well as translate any foreign language information.

There are two aims – providing a better, more personalised service for Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class passengers and to increase efficiency by speeding up the check-in process and making the customer journey as seamless as possible. Wearables help here – one of the advantages of Google Glass is that information can be accessed without having to break eye contact as with a conventional PC and keyboard, for example.

At the same time, as the airline points out, with more and more of us flying, the whole customer experience risks become less exciting or memorable for passengers. The positive aspects of flying can be lost as the process becomes more mundane, particularly for frequent passengers.

So aiming to improve the customer experience is a major area where airlines can look to differentiate themselves, retain passengers and build loyalty. Travel is also one of the industries most affected by the rise of the internet. The sector has moved from face-to-face or telephone bookings through travel agents to a predominantly web-based model remarkably quickly.

While this has increased efficiency and expanded the options available to passengers it does risk removing the personal touch. Airlines realise this – from Ryanair promising to improve its customer service and end unnecessary charges to Virgin Atlantic’s Google Glass trial, the sector is focusing on what it can do to make the journey trouble-free. Self-service check-ins, automated passport scanning and virtual tickets stored on your phone all have a part to play in improving the experience.

However, as British Airways found out when it introduced its Know Me system back in 2012, the boundary between customer understanding and privacy can be a difficult one to judge. Know Me allowed customer service representatives to access data about clients from BA’s systems, as well as information, such as photographs, from the web. This is used during the buying process (for example to automatically select an aisle seat if that is what the passenger normally chooses) and at check-in. 2,000 flight attendants have been issued with iPads to help identify travellers and deliver a personalised service to frequent flyers. However it ran into complaints, with privacy campaigners claiming that BA may be breaching the Data Protection Act by using web information in this way. The airline has hit back strongly, declaring that it is fully compliant with the law and is only using the information to improve service.

Technology, whether through wearables or mobile devices, provides the travel sector with the means to get closer to customers and deliver the personalised service they are looking for. However, at a time when customers increasingly value their privacy, balancing the two areas can be difficult. Passengers therefore need to have the benefits explained clearly if they are to opt into new technology that improves the customer journey, from booking to leaving the airport at the destination.

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Ryanair and the customer experience

November 1, 2013 2 comments

Boeing 737-800 shortly after takeoff

Poor customer service from airlines is frequently in the press. Take the infamous ‘United breaks guitars’ incident back in 2008 or the more recent case when Hasan Syed, a BA passenger, invested in sponsored tweets to show his anger at his father having his luggage lost. EasyJet also fell foul of the Twittersphere earlier this year when it initially refused to allow a passenger who’d sent a critical tweet onto his plane.

All of these tend to be single incidents where things have gone wrong and the airline concerned hasn’t dealt with the problem satisfactorily. One of the reasons they get so much publicity is that they are out of the ordinary.

In contrast, low cost airline Ryanair has often seemed to set out to deliver a basic customer experience and has consequently become synonymous with unfriendly, inflexible service in many people’s minds. In a recent Which? customer service survey the airline performed the worst out of the UK’s 100 biggest brands, scoring just 54%, well below its peers.

However this looks set to change as the airline has launched a charm offensive, aimed at winning over passengers. Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has joined Twitter, appearing in a number of online chats and has pledged to improve the airline’s website, customer service and social media channels. Additionally, a number of unpopular regulations, such as limiting cabin luggage to a single bag, have been removed, and charges for reissuing boarding cards reduced. And things aren’t ending there – it is actively seeking customer feedback (both on social media and via the web) using the #TellMOL campaign.

In his own inimitable style O’Leary commented, “We should try to eliminate things that unnecessarily piss people off. A lot of those customer services elements don’t cost a lot of money.” The announcement followed the company’s first ever profit warning after passenger numbers fell, perhaps focusing management on the importance of customer service.

From a customer service point of view it is positive to see that Ryanair seems keen to change its reputation. And as O’Leary says good customer service doesn’t necessarily cost huge amounts of money, and the loyalty it induces leads to repeat business from happier customers. Forrester research has found that a ten point improvement in a company’s customer experience score can translate into more than $1 billion of additional sales.

So, while the jury is still out on whether the planned modifications will transform the experience for Ryanair passengers, it is good to see that it seems willing to listen to customers and the CEO is not just backing but leading the changes. And at the very least, it has dropped plans to charge passengers for using the inflight toilets…………

Customer service vs data privacy

July 11, 2012 4 comments
Tails of British Airways Jumbos lined up near ...

Tails of British Airways Jumbos lined up near terminal 5 at Heathrow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Delivering the best service is often about understanding what makes your customers tick – recognising them, knowing their likes/dislikes, what channels they prefer to be contacted by, and even on a basic level whether they prefer to be addressed formally or informally.

In theory the huge amount of personal information now freely available online provides companies with the chance to deliver that personalised service. However at the same time as demanding improved service consumers are increasingly worried about the privacy of their online information and how it is used.

Balancing these two conflicting areas is difficult, as British Airways is currently finding. Last week the airline launched its “Know Me” system, which allows customer service representatives to access data about clients from BA’s systems, as well as information including photographs from the web. This is used at check in and by flight attendants with iPads to help identify travellers and deliver a personalised service to frequent flyers.

However it has flown into a storm, with privacy campaigners claiming that BA may be breaching the Data Protection Act by using web information in this way. The airline has hit back strongly, declaring that it is fully compliant with the law and is only using the information to improve service.

BA’s system seems to be a genuine attempt to use the resources around it to provide improved service, but the fierce criticism shows how difficult the whole area of using personal information is in the internet age. Companies need to be very sure that not only what they are doing is legal, but that it is something that customers are happy with – and if possible, have given their informed consent for. And, of course, that the improvement in customer service that it delivers is both real and long-lasting. Consequently customer service departments in companies in all sectors will be watching BA’s progress with great interest and seeing what lessons they can learn moving forward.

Ash Cloud customer service – Mark 2

May 23, 2011 2 comments
Gígjökull covered in ash after the 2010 erupti...

Image via Wikipedia

It has been a year since a cloud of volcanic ash from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland spread across Europe, causing unprecedented disruption to flights. The bad news is that a new cloud, this time from the Grimsvotn volcano, is heading to the UK as we speak.

The worry for both passengers and the aviation industry is that last year’s widespread disruption could be repeated. In 2010 more than 75% of European airspace was closed for a week, affecting more than 90,000 flights and 10 million passengers.

At the time a key criticism of airlines from the 100,000 stranded Britons was a lack of information, whether on the web, social media, in airports or when calling or emailing the contact centre. However some airlines and organisations coped better than others, with the likes of Eurocontrol, British Airways and KLM using social media to keep passengers updated as the crisis unfolded.

Learning from 2010’s lessons here are five top tips from Eptica that the travel industry should follow:

  1. Keep your customer service channels constantly updated (and consistent). In a fast-moving situation out of date or variable content is worse than useless.
  2. Set aside specific, easily accessible areas of your website or Facebook pages with the latest information. Don’t bury this content but put it on your front page.
  3. Use social media to spread updates via Twitter, Facebook and specific online groups to reassure customers as the situation develops.
  4. Automate as much as you can. Many people will be asking the same questions – put in place self-service systems that provide answers on your website and Facebook, freeing up staff to deal with more complicated queries.
  5. Have the right resources in place. Ensure you have enough staff on hand, armed with consistent answers from the same knowledgebase to respond across all channels for the entire crisis.

While everyone hopes that Ash Cloud Mark 2 doesn’t have the impact of 2010, the travel industry needs to be ready to reassure and update passengers whatever happens.

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