Over the past few years, I have got increasingly pissed off with British Airways, and I wanted to share what I believe is a link between my bruised (admitted large) ego and the challenge many organisations face when claiming they are trying to transform the customer experience.
I’m a British Airways bigot, I will always fly with them if I can and have spent a lot of my career aboard BA aircraft. I have lifetime Gold Executive Club status and I’m assuming that I’ve earned this not because BA are nice people who want to thank me for my past purchase history, but because they would like to secure future income from a high-spending frequent flyer.
This ‘elevated’ status also means that I expect a differential level of service (above and beyond the class I fly) and in many ways, BA deliver that – I have access to nice lounges, I board late and fast and I earn more tier points. That’s all fantastic, but there’s one tiny thing that they don’t get right that to me feels symptomatic of why so many organisations fail to deliver a class-leading customer experience, and here it is:
Each time I ring the Executive Club phone number the first thing they do is ask for my Executive Club number. Why do they need this? How can they possibly not know who I am when I have been calling them from the same, unique, mobile number for 25 years.
Now I clearly understand that not knowing who I am isn’t the worst customer experience crime in the world, falling clearly into the ‘first world problems’ category (my daughter would ask “Who’s going to play you in the film of your hard life?”) but it has made me think about why it frustrates me so much, and I believe that’s because it captures three key challenges in delivering a compelling customer experience:
- A winning customer experience is the sum of the small things, something we, at babble, talk about a lot in our marginal gains messaging, but equally that means it’s the small things that can transform the perception of whether it is actually a winning experience or not (at babble we call it the ‘pubic hair’ phenomena).
- That this is a classic case of ‘what is possible soon becomes expected’. As a professional in the customer experience tech space I know BA can use simple technology to personalise my experience and to know who I am, and by choosing not to do so, to me at least, they are making a conscious choice to deliver a sub-optimal experience. That may be unfair, it probably is, but it’s a very human conclusion to reach.
- I firmly believe that no toolset, however innovative and capable can change behaviour and in turn experience. The mindset change that drives cultural change must always come first.
It’s the latter point that I want to focus on. The technology we sell is genuinely transformational, but if you’re a Neanderthal and you’re given an Uzi then the chances are that you’ll shoot yourself in the head before you shoot a bison.
Now I am not accusing BA of being primitive in their approach to customer experience, they run a highly complex business, and do so very well as far as I can tell, and I promise this isn’t a long passive-aggressive complaint letter (whatever I may be, I am certainly not passive in my aggressive) but they’ve given me a convenient stick to bang one of my favourite drums, which is this: no technology in the world will transform the customer experience unless the organisation deploying it already has the vision, the appetite and the bravery to challenge the way that they have always done things.
Too many organisations start out to “transform” the customer experience from where they are, and it’s a mistake. We are passionate about the power of marginal gains in transforming the customer experience (we believe that it is the aggregation of marginal gains that drive that transformation) but that journey of multiple small steps must start with a clear vision of where you want to be, one shared by everyone who is part of your customer experience. And there must be a dictat from the top of the organisation that tells everyone to get out of the way because this is happening.
Crucially, the vision shouldn’t start with what is possible it should start from what is imaginable. It’s the act of imagining a competitor-beating customer experience that lifts people above the anchor of what’s possible. Technology is developing so fast that you can be sure that sooner rather than later the reality will catch up with your imagination of it, and if you haven’t imagined and aspired to it then you won’t be capable of using it – at least quickly enough for it to be a competitive differentiator and not just a ‘me too’ service offering.
It means that if you have imagined that greeting every returning customer by name and knowing their preferences would make a competitor-beating experience then the minute becomes possible you’ll be there – ready to deliver it (it’s here now btw). But if you’re not there, and it is possible, then you can only blame yourself if your customers reach an unwelcome conclusion on how important they are to you.
Now, back to the crucial question: Who will play me in that film?!