British Airways – Customer Service at its worst.

By Editor Niels Kjellerup Ashgrove December 18th 2001.

  Background : This is a case-study of my personal experiences with British Airways. It might be dismissed as ‘anecdotal’, but the consistent bad service delivered by BA’s different Call Centres over a period of  12 months can’t be a coincident and should lead to a major restructure on a senior management level. As a resident of Australia my travels to Europe often necessitate linking up with BA and passing via Heathrow Airport. I most often fly business class, which presumably makes me a ‘valued’ customer. This case is a good example, of how Customer Service Call Centre  gets disconnected from the Sales Process & Business Model of the mother company, and deteriorates into a pure cost centre, loosing sight of its purpose & role in Value Creation.. 

 The sequence of events :

November 2000 -  Passing through Heathrow on my way to Copenhagen my luggage didn’t make it to the connecting flight and was delivered 6 hours later at my address. My suitcase was damaged. 3 weeks later, it’s a Saturday, when I return to Heathrow I go BA Customer Service Desk and explain about my damaged suitcase. First its refused, as the complaint must be made within 24 hours, but as my circumstances are understood I’m given a badly Xeroxed  paper slip with a phone-number to call on Monday. I call and am put on hold for 54 minutes. The girl is great  and tells me how a recent restructure has reduced the number of reps in this complaint section, which makes it impossible to keep up with call volume. Needless to say we resolve the problem and after buying a new suitcase and spending 70 minutes waiting getting my refund, I assumed the matter was resolved.


June 2001 – Same story, but this time my Golf-club protection bag arrives torn to shreds at my hotel in Copenhagen. No worries I know the procedure. Wait time for complaint line only 46 minutes.

Oh, I forget. While in Copenhagen I need to change my departure date to London. I ring BA on its business class priority line in Copenhagen. 38 minutes wait. Then a lovely Swedish accent answers my prayers,  naturally I ask how this could be?  6 months earlier BA Nordic management decided to close down the Danish and Norwegian Call Centres and set up a virtual call centre for the Nordic area in Vaermland ,Sweden – ‘ and since then we have not been able to cope with call volume!’ ( for those interested in geography this is like relocating to Sioux Falls South Dakota US or  Lancaster UK).

In London I get my new, very solid golf-club protection bag – normal refund time 65 minutes. But when I check in for my flight to Johannesburg South Africa I’m asked to pay overweight, as my new bag is 2 kg’s over the limit ( clever way to raise a little extra revenue from a J-class passenger, needless to say this claim was dropped after I raised my voice).

 October/November 2001 -  I’m on my way back to Europe. This time I fly South African & Qantas. My luggage arrived with me at my hotel in Bruxelles. Only two encounters with BA. I had to fly BA Copenhagen – London, and as my new Qantas Club Card was delayed I was naturally refused entry to the BA lounge in Copenhagen (can’t used an outdated membership card and no way of checking on the system). My last experience with BA came on a December morning (1/12), I have to get to Amsterdam that Saturday morning . I call  the BA priority line and am kept waiting for 38 minutes, while being bombarded with messages to hang up and use the Internet. Another bizarre message “ The reason you’re experience this delay, is because we’re currently training our staff to improve customer service delivery?”. I hang up, call KLM, get answered in less than 10 seconds and buy my return ticket there.

 Final comment : Any company, no matter its great past, will be judged by its customers on the experience it delivers. Current BA CEO Rod Eddington had a reputation for an uncompromising customer service focus when he was CEO of Ansett and Cathay Pacific. Maybe its time he removed some senior managers in British Airways Customer Service Delivery Department? Maybe he doesn’t know how badly managed the area really is? When the Customers Walk Out it will be too late.


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