|The infamous Red Gate of Auschwitz|
Let me start with a quote from a leaflet British Airways provided me this week, which triggered me to write this blog (and a complaint letter) - “Excellence in customer care and making you feel good are very important to us” they also have the slogan “to fly, to serve” let me assure you, they do the first, but not the second and certainly they do not care or make you feel good!
As many of you know, I don’t fly British Airways out of principle after they humiliated me and treated me disrespectfully over two years ago, something that should not be done to anyone, let alone your loyal frequent customers! I will spare you the gory details in this blog but let me give you a flavour of what they did to me back then which ties with this week’s experience.
That summer I booked a reward flight in BA with the points I had earned through constantly travelling, taking 130 flights a year and leaving my family behind. Unfortunately that morning I turned up at the wrong airport, it was my mistake and I knew it. However, I needed to get to Spain to collect my family before doing a brutal 2 days driving back to the UK, time was of the essence. I went to the so call Customer Care Centre (yes Care and not Service, isn’t that nice, not sure true…) and I asked to change my ticket to get to Madrid that day. After some clickity click on the keyboard I was told by the “Customer Care Agent” I had to buy a new ticket to the sum of 950 pounds, single and economy! Now, I knew I had to pay something for my mistake but 950 pounds? When I asked why it was so expensive I was told, “it’s because you have a cheap ticket and cannot be changed” Wait a minute! There is a difference between a reward ticket and a low cost ticket (I wouldn’t even call it cheap!) what did she mean by cheap? was she calling me cheap? (You can see how this was going to end badly). Both clickity click Customer Care Lady and Customer Care Supervisor kept on winding me up by continually calling my ticket “cheap” and refusing to help me with anything cheaper than 950 pounds! You know the Little Britain “the computer says no!” sketch? Well this was it! (If you’ve not seen it, click on this link, you’ll know what I’mtalking about http://youtu.be/AJQ3TM-p2QI)
With tears in my eyes and frustrated as they would not help me I said to them “so what am I supposed to do? I’m a loyal customer taking over 130 flights a year, there is nothing you can do?” (I was prepared to pay, but not 950 pounds!) Their reply was nothing short than “that’s your problem sir, you need to pay if you want to travel today” the rest of the story I don’t need to tell you, as at this point they were not ready to help me and leave me in the streets. I remember saying to them as I left that the difference between good customer service and British Airways is that customer service starts with the customer, not your systems and processes.
Since then I rarely fly with British Airways, only out of necessity. And to show you how loyal I was and how important my custom was, two years later I am still Silver level and that is without using them! (They don’t want to see it but this cost them dearly) It seems that every time I get on a BA flight they always managed to do something to upset me, and this week was no exception.
On my way back from a business trip with a colleague we were boarding the BA flight from Warsaw to London and I was stopped and given a new boarding pass with an upgrade to business class. When the flights are full they usually upgrade Silver/Gold customers. As I am still a gentleman I offer my upgrade to my colleague as I felt she would enjoy it after a long week of travelling for which she was grateful. We boarded the plane and settled in. A few moments later she came to me and informed me that she had been asked to take a sit in economy as the ground staff had made a mistake and I should not have been upgraded, but yet the seat I was assigned was empty! You can imagine how embarrassed I was and I immediately went to see the flight supervisor. When I challenged her and told her that this was the most embarrassing situation she could ever put anyone through, all she could say was that it was a mistake and should not have happed.
A mistake? She didn’t seem to understand the embarrassment she had put my colleague and I through and that it is just simply not the way to treat people, especially if you are a frequent loyal customer! Let’s pause here for a moment and remind ourselves of the phrase I saw in their leaflet “Excellence in customer care and making you feel good are very important to us” at this point they have done none of the above, except process us like a number; “you are in the wrong seat, you are going to have to move, you should not be here” (their words to my colleague, not mine!)
What makes this even harder to comprehend is that she knew the seat was not assigned, and there were a couple of empty places in economy; it is not just because you are silver or gold member, this would be embarrassing for anyone and not the way to treat people. So you made a mistake, own it, take it and deal with it without embarrassing the person, remember their words, not mine “customer care… making you feel good…” close the door to the plane, let the person sit there, it’s not going to cost you more and you made someone feel good and that you care.
They kept apologizing because BA is good at that, empty words. They seem to always hide behind the systems or finding someone else to blame, like two years ago, when it was my fault that I have bought a “cheap ticket”! My parting words to them was a reminder that in good customer care you put the customer first (I seem to be telling them this every time I see them!) The old saying “the customer comes first” has not gone away and you must always treat people with respect and dignity, that’s all.
I think the hardest thing in life is to realise that in any given situation you need to treat people they way you would want to be treated. Dignity and respect are two basic principles we should all apply when we deal with people, whether it is in customer service, in relationships, with employees, family and friends or even total strangers. This week I had the opportunity to re-visit one of the most important places in the world, Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where millions of people were executed, where you are reminded of what happens when we don’t put dignity and respect first. I have visited Auschwitz before and it is a place I believe everyone has to visit at least once in his or her lifetime. I am not comparing the treatment BA gave my colleague and I today with what happened to millions of people in Auschwitz, but I can’t help thinking that no matter where you are, no matter who you are and no matter when it happens, people are still not being treated with dignity and respect. Look at all recent events surrounding us, from the racist comments of the owner of the LA Clippers Basketball team, the recent crisis in Crimea Ukraine to the 300 schoolgirls being kidnapped. People are being constantly treated without respect or dignity and we have to learn from past events; too many things have happened and continue to happen in the word where basic respect and dignity is ignored.
As for British Airways and their staff, all they have to do is stop and think, not to focus just on the process or system. To stop and think how would they have felt if they were in the customer’s shoe? If we all do it, perhaps one day Dignity and Respect will prevail around the world.