Approximate time to read:3.5 minutes

“The airline has faced a number of major challenges over the past six months that have affected our customers’ experiences with us, and have clearly affected our staff’s opinions and perceptions."

Not much seems to have changed since 2007, when British Airways engineering director Garry Copeland spoke this masterful understatement.

Whatever happened to this thing branded customer care? Have BA’s senior executives received an emotional intelligence bi pass? Would anyone in their right minds invest in a company of this calibre? Probably only PC World at its previous nadir of customer abuse and neglect could have managed to turn a crisis into a catastrophe.

In less than a few weeks, BA’s senior management have demonstrated they are not fit to run a whelk stall, let alone an airline.More recently Don Porter, BAs ex Vice President and then Director of Customer Service Quality, bravely went on record as saying:

"Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong." Time to make a return visit Don, they really need you!Nobody seems to have told BA’s top team that when your customers face serious difficulties this is absolutely no time to abandon them.

In fact it is a wonderful, maybe unique opportunity to show how much you care, to gain their undying gratitude, to win their loyalty and affection for life.Instead, the airline’s stranded customers have experienced corporate arrogance to a breathtaking degree.

People stranded in numerous airports have been abandoned to fend for themselves. Most recently some have discovered to their fury the airline happily selling tickets for journeys home, rather than making sure its distressed customers get immediate priority.

That some of the Middle East airlines reportedly treated their stranded passengers like royalty, must have been like salt in the wounds for BA as it struggled to offer a semblance of customer care around the globe.

When those BA customers do finally return home some will doubtless visit the airline’s customer satisfaction questionnaire, where in return they can win a Sony Vaio VGN-TT11LN/B ultra-sleek laptop.

It will be interesting to know how many will answer positively question seven: Would you recommend British Airways to your family or work colleague? One wonders just how frustrated the company’s HR department must be as it watches the company’s reputation being trashed in the press.

Talk about engagement! First they must live with a chief executive whose macho style has alienated such a large proportion of the staff that striking has seemed the only way out.Secondly, the HR gurus have seen the Icelandic volcano reduce the airline’s reputation to ash by failing to rise to the occasion and treat its customers with respect and care.

Putting it slightly differently, if you worked for this organisation would you feel you wanted to go that extra mile for it? In engagement terms, how many of its people now feel proud of being an employee?

Engagement is now incontrovertibly a source of a company’s commercial progress. It is a vital factor that positively affects profits, sales, and a host of other critical variables.

Ignore engagement and you will eventually find yourself staring at a balance sheet that will make you blanche. Engagement in other words is absolutely critical to success.The HR team in BA perform regular staff surveys and we can reasonably assume they know only too well the present scores for staff engagement.  

They almost certainly do not make for happy reading. The last publicly released 2007 BA staff survey showed less than half its workers thought the airline offers passengers value for money.The carrier’s own staff newspaper found that only 49% agreed that travellers got a good deal for their ticket price.

It also found that only 31% of employees were satisfied that they have the tools to do a good job. That was then, this is now. How much progress has the management made since then? For those of us in the people development business who have been around the block a few times, there is a familiar smell about BA right now.

It has the aroma of IBM when it lost its way and needed a brutal rescue, a tang of Sainsbury, when its level of complacency reached an all time high, it has the whiff of Marks and Spencer as it toppled from its pedestal of sainthood and nearly ended up in the hands of Philip Green.

Based on such past experiences it does not take much to predict where all this is leading for BA.

Unless the top team can re-engineer its culture, re-engage its staff and impress legions of lost and disillusioned customers they might as well hand over the keys to Michael O’Leary and spend more time with their families.

Ryan Air boss Michael O’Leary, hardly a leader in customer care, has now dramatically revoked comments made earlier that passengers affected by the six-day airspace ban would not be reimbursed by Ryan Air. 

At least the hard line chief executive of the low cost airline goliath has come to his senses and announced that he will comply with ‘unfair’ European law which obliges carriers to refund bills of thousands of passengers caught up in the volcano crisis. Where O’Leary treads, can BA be far behind?


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