Posts Tagged ‘BA’

www.customersgetstuffed.co.uk

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

The current snowy weather has exposed one of the most insidious aspects of how cheapskate companies have exploited the internet in the last decade or so — by outsourcing customer service to the customers themselves.

In normal circumstances, this can be quite empowering — rather than have to phone up a call centre or turn up in person the customer can cut out the intermediary and access information more directly. The classic example is travel — now everyone can access an airline or tour operator’s systems via the web rather than have to go into a high street travel agency. This also demonstrates why the internet isn’t really in itself such a paradigm-shifting technology — all it has really done is connect the devices that people use personally (computers and now phones and other innovations) with the commercial systems that organisations have been using internally to run their businesses since the 1970s or 80s.

In many call centre or customer service situations the person you interact with is really just there as a conduit to access the IT systems — and in the vast majority of cases this can be made user-friendly enough for a customer to do themselves over the web. And customers can now access information that previously wouldn’t have been cost-effective to pay employees to give out — like where exactly your train is meant to be on the line.

Even the likes of Twitter and Facebook aren’t really new — messaging services and bulletin boards have been in existence on private systems for decades.

Online shopping is an odd mixture between new technology and antidiluvian business processes — as Amazon and others have been discovering, parcel delivery is their Achilles heel. I’ve ordered Christmas presents from Amazon that, according to their whizzy, integrated tracking feature, have stayed in the Royal Mail’s distribution centre in Scotland since 9th December (12 days now).

No wonder Amazon tried to grow as big as quickly as it could because its basic business proposition is very unoriginal and easily copied — basically plugging web browsers into wholesalers’ catalogues. There’s little difference between Amazon’s bookshop and the old-style book clubs that offered members 4 books for £1 — just a more interactive catalogue.

Amazon has also set a very bad precedent in trying to handle all its customer service online. Phone numbers disappeared off their site as soon as they got big enough as a company to afford not to care too much about their customers. When they first started off in the UK around 1997, Amazon’s customer service was brilliant — I got several unsolicited free gifts. Try and contact them these days and all you get is some auto-generated reply and if you try and get something more personal you may be lucky and get an e-mail a few days later from someone in India with a very vague understanding of the problem.

In fact, every time I try to contact Amazon they annoy me so much that I don’t know why carry on using them. In fact I do — they’re cheap and their competitors, such as Waterstones, often can’t get their act together. I had a reading list of books to buy for a course and wanted to get them from Waterstones but their website kept being unavailable at the time.

Amazon has plainly gone for cost leadership and size — and if it’s customer service is irritating then it’s usually only some goods that have gone missing.

Plenty of cheap-skate companies inspired by penny-pinching, unimaginative managements have tried to use the internet principally as a means of cutting their own costs — thinking technology is a clever wheeze that would allow them to get the customer to do unpaid work that their own staff used to do. They can get away with this when processes are simple and straightforward but when things go wrong then this cynical attitude to the customer is ruthlessly exposed.

So airlines like BA have been encouraging passengers to use their own labour and materials to check-in and print out boarding passes so they can eliminate check-in desks at the airports and the staff that man them. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Willie Walsh and his band of asset strippers that an airline, unlike Amazon, doesn’t just dispatch packages — it transports people — and these people need information, require food and accommodation when delayed and become very upset when they don’t get either and are piled up in airport lounges like a pile of delayed mail in a sorting office.

Also, pointing people to the web to get information in emergencies is useless because companies, both for reasons of cost and security, only expose the simplest and most straightforward functions of their IT systems via the internet. In a shop or call centre there’s almost always an ability to over-ride the simplest rules on the system — to allow a discount or impose a refund for example — because the company has given someone the authority to act with that discretion. This can’t be done in a self-service way.

So for complex interactions with its systems, a company always needs to have staff — but, because the vast majority of sales can often come online, these staff are seen as a necessary evil as they incur cost rather than generate revenue. Therefore they try and employ as few as possible.

BA asking its customers to rebook online is plainly ridiculous for a customer-facing business — how can customers self-prioritise their needs — for example distinguishing between passengers stuck in transit at Heathrow for four days as opposed to tourists jetting off for a bit of winter sun? Also many IT systems that are aimed at customers don’t get updated quickly enough to reflect exceptional operational circumstances — Chiltern Railways (who are way better at customer services than most train operators) were running an emergency timetable yesterday that bore no relation to that on the National Rail website.

People make the most ridiculous claims about the internet and the web and say how much it has changed everything — in the area of customer service I’d agree that it has had a big transformational effect — for the worse.

Boeing Has A Dream(liner) — Nightmare for BA

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

The infamously delayed Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner’ actually got off the ground today – two and a half years late. This is a pretty good achievement seeing as one of the latest delays was caused by a fairly important structural flaw — apparently the part of the plane where the wings join on wasn’t strong enough. It wouldn’t have been much of a dreamflight if the wings had fallen off. According to the BBC, the wings managed to stay on for the duration of the test flight, although it landed earlier than schedule.

BA has 24 of the 787s on order but the papers have been speculating whether BA will even exist when they’re ready to be delivered — not because of more interminable Boeing delays but due to the death-wish that the management seem to want to inflict on the company. Willie Walsh seems to have backed himself into a corner — trying time-wasting wheezes like trying to sue the company over technicalities. He should look at the majority in favour of industrial action instead — 9 to 1. That can’t be blamed on militant union bosses — it’s the result of catastrophically bad management. This is no surprise when the company can’t decide whether it’s a low-cost airline that abolishes free food or an upmarket brand for the business and more discerning end of the market.

The BBC’s reporting of the strike has been woeful. They ask people who’ve booked holidays on BA what they think of the strike — what sort of response do they think they’re going to get? Yet the next item on the news is about Copenhagen and climate change. While there are people travelling over Christmas for necessary reasons there are an awful lot of the BA customers who are just jetting off for a sunny second (or third or fourth) holiday — so we’re expected to emote when Samantha and Toby can’t easily take their brats to the Caribbean for Christmas but then wring our hands over climate change? It seems like the editors of certain broadsheets are peeved that their own getaways are possibly being jeapordised — the Independent bizarrely wants the union to play down its huge majority for action.

Another inconsistency and hypocrisy is that the management of BA has the customers’ interests solely at heart — those nice men. Think who installed an abrasive chancer like Walsh into his position — the back-scratching clique of institutional shareholders like pension funds, stock market gamblers, hedge fund managers and so on. Exactly the bunch of economic micro short-termists whose judgement (along with Brown’s complacency) landed us the credit crunch. BA’s management has no-one’s interests at heart but global capital.

It’s a hugely irresponsible management that has had this strike ballot pending since the summer and seems more intent on provoking a showdown than resolving the underlying issues. They are a bunch of chancers and the union has hugely called their bluff by planning a strike of a length that would cripple the company. (For one thing, if all BA’s planes were grounded they would have no room for them, certainly at Heathrow.) The Daily Telegraph is considering if BA will be completely destroyed. It seems that Walsh is about to hand Branson and O’Leary a nice Christmas present.

BA’s Bum Year

Friday, November 6th, 2009

In the old days before its management came up with wheezes like charging passengers for choosing seats and getting rid of food (see previous posting), British Airways used to make a profit in the period April to October while usually making a cyclical loss in the winter. The new management have taken the cyclicity out by ensuring the airline loses money in the summer too — to the tune of nearly £300m.

Perhaps the twin track strategy of destroying customer service and constantly antagonising its own workforce is a deliberate attempt to turn BA into a low-cost airline? There can’t be any other explanation for this wanton destruction.

Skinflint Airways

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Further evidence that current BA management is continuing to lose the plot comes thick and fast. Most recently was their ‘Enhanced Seating Policy’ — http://www.britishairways.com/travel/flightops/public/en_gb?p_faqid=3863 . This raises the prospect of people travelling together, like families, having to pay extortionate prices to sit together on one of BA’s flights. Charter airlines like Thomson have been making a tidy profit on this particular wheeze for a few years now (in practice it’s pretty unlikely that groups of passengers would be seated apart anyway unless this was done deliberately by the airline). BA are planning to charge £50 to book an exit row seat (a tax on tall people, perhaps?) and £10 per person per sector in Pig class — which would work out at £80 for a return for a family of 4. The irony is, of course, that if air travel was a remotely pleasurable experience then passengers wouldn’t be scrabbling around on the Internet to try and bag themselves the best seats of a bad lot.

And how much does it cost BA to bring in this technology? Hardly anything. The facility to prebook seats has been around since about 1985-6 on BA’s reservation system, having been bought from KLM in the mid-90s. What may have cost a little is adding a bit of code in to siphon money for the privelege out of customers’ credit card accounts.

What this shows is that BA’s bonkers management seems to be dominated by the sort of penny-pinching, marginal revenue obsessed idiots who have no clue about maintaining the brand value of a full-service airline. It’s only a few weeks since food was phased out on most Euro traveller flights. Now they’ve gone further down the low-cost airline route. This might make sense if BA had the remotest hope of competing with the likes of Ryanair and Easy Jet on costs but with a ‘mature’ workforce and operating out of high-cost hubs like Heathrow then this is pie-in-the-sky.

As with upmarket retailers like John Lewis, BA must compete by convincing customers that it represents value and, while it won’t be the cheapest, it will provide the best service.

Whenever companies introduce something like this that means poorer service and higher prices, it’s funny how they always say it’s in response to ‘customer demand’. I have a theory there is a special focus group for hire of masochistic individuals who make their living from telling market researchers ‘Sure I’d like to pay more to the company and get less for it.’  Probably the only company who wouldn’t make use of this resource would be Ryanair, whose strategy BA seems to be increasingly trying to ape.