Dear British Airways

I have standardized all my travel on BA. It’s a conscious decision based upon the following experience:

  1. When you reach Gold status then you get an extra baggage allowance and extra weight. That matters when I travel with heavy studio equipment.
  2. The BA lounges in London are among the best in the world. The shared lounge in Sydney is truly world class. Others are less so. The one at Malaga, shared with Iberia is pathetic. Earlier this week I was in the Concorde Room at Heathrow and was able to bring a colleague into the same space on my card. He was able to benefit from the same facilities as myself. Another bonus.
  3. BA staff are among the most courteous in the world. They know who their frequent flyers are and address them personally. There is for instance nothing nicer than to be greeted on board with something like: ‘Good to see you again Mr Howlett, we hope you enjoy your flight.’ It isn’t fake – they mean it because their livelihoods depend upon people like me coming back for more.
  4. You can have a proper conversation with BA staff, whether on the ground or in the air about issues that matter. They’re chatty, candid and have no qualms about telling you where management are messing up.
  5. While the ‘golden days’ of BA travel are gone for staff, those who remain and are in long service provide a thoroughly professional service.

All of which contrasts wildly with the low cost airlines who seem to treat passengers as little more than a vehicle from which to extract as much cash as possible. I am sure that’s at the behest of management.

But…like so many other businesses, there are key parts of BA service that don’t work so well.

Critique

  1. Right now there is a labor dispute in Spain with Iberia staff. BA and Iberia are part of a mega corp that is imposing much needed change on Iberia methods and systems. Staff don’t like it and are striking at certain intervals. Iberia staff are effectively grounding many flights in and out of Spain. BA staff for their part don’t seem to know what’s going on or only have glimpses of the right information. There is no coordination between management and staff such that passengers get a clear message. BA doesn’t communicate directly with passengers about possible disruption. It is chaotic.
  2. I get that labor disputes are fluid situations but having a clear communications strategy in these and similar circumstances would do much to reduce passenger tension.
  3. BAs training policies are slapdash. At least part of the Iberia problem is that staff are having to learn a new system after 20 some years of using their own. This is never an easy task but there seems little on the ground support. BA staff tell me they have similar problems. This goes to the core of managing your people effectively. To their credit, BA staff solider on as best they can but it isn’t optimal. BA could use its own staff to help their Spanish colleagues, but I see no evidence of that.
  4. BA has a nice Twitter presence. However it doesn’t seem well equipped to answer questions and especially not deal with gripes. This is customer care 101 and again, BA could do itself a lot of good by learning from the candor that front line staff share with customers.
  5. BA occasionally asks passengers to complete surveys. Passengers are rewarded for doing so with generous Avios additions to their account. However, the surveys I have seen are methodologically unsound. They point towards providing BA management with ‘feel good’ feedback rather than honest appraisals. How does that help BA improve its service? I don’t get it.

Suggestions

This month, BA has a very good entertainment package with films like Argo, Skyfall and Lincoln all on the menu. However, everyone gets those choices. Would they be better differentiating classes of travel through different entertainment options? I think so. Would that represent a genuine value add for business and first class passengers? I think so.

Arriving in the US is always a tortuous business. Could BA improve its service by negotiating fast track clearance for business and first class travelers? How much of a value add would that be when the alternative is queuing for an hour in circumstances which are only going to get worse as the year progresses?

Concluding thoughts

Digital business and media puts the passenger in a position to render opinions and thoughts that no business can control. As you can see…I am sure BA ‘gets’ that but its responses are patchy. It tries to ‘game’ some of its passengers like me, by giving us upgrades and the like. That is all to the goos and, in truth, is their only real way of encouraging positive feedback. The First Class experience is definitely up there with the world’s best but there are more ways to improve service.

The problem with business intelligence? Intelligence

freeagent1One of the really nice things about the new crop of cloudy accounting applications is that the vendors have (mostly) thought through what business people need in analytics. By that I mean they have taken the time to think about outputs as an integral part of the design. I particularly like the way (for instance) FreeAgent shows the small business person everything they need to know in a clear and obvious way. On their latest blog post, the company says it will be showcasing:

…some of our thinking on other ways we can expose meaningful insights on businesses for multiple audiences – including some awesome new ways of reporting business data.

How cool is that? The same cannot be said of the enterprise space.

A wee while back, Jim Holincheck and I were having a back and forth on the topic of business intelligence, the so-called ‘big data’ story and how we’re all going to need data scientists (however that’s defined) in order for the business to make sense of the oceans of data swilling around. Jim’s position is  the data scientist argument is a ‘cop out:’

My belief is that business intelligence/analytic applications have not been easy enough or valuable enough to the layperson to gain wide adoption.

Jim used the analogy of Turbo Tax which

…significantly increased the number of use cases where you did not need a professional to help you prepare taxes.  I do not think we have seen the equivalent of TurboTax for business intelligence/analytic applications – yet.

As a side note, I have long held the view that the SME cloud accounting players are doing exactly that. It is an argument I have used when talking to large vendors about where they need to take their cues. He observes that:

 One of my greatest pet peeves as an analyst at Gartner was watching demos of reporting tools that showed how you could drill-down to find the data or exception you needed to know or act on.  The demo person would effortlessly drill-down four or five levels and get to the result.  Most business leaders are not going to take the time to do that kind of exploration (because they may not know where to look to find this nugget like the demo person does).  However, those business leaders would be quite interested in the results of that exploration.

Jim also believes that when you can add intelligence into an application so that it delivers information contextually, then you’re onto something:

What if instead you had intelligence in the system that would interrogate all of the drill-down paths and report back interesting findings based on your role

I kind of agree/disagree with Jim on this. I”d like for instance to understand what Jim means by ‘interesting.’ Today, much reporting is based upon the idea of exceptions. Most of the work he describes can be done through the building of dashboards but then you need a small army of dashboard builders to get you to that point. Even then, I’d be surprised if such dashboards remain current because needs change. On the other hand, back in the day, Comshare as it then was, had the idea of being able to visually spin information in a virtual three dimensional world. It was insanely clever but, as with much that company tried to do, there wasn’t enough marketing muscle to make it stick.

I sense that the problem goes back even further. Large systems were never designed to get information out but to meet compliance needs and automate (as far as possible) data going in. Reporting, budgeting, forecasting and planning were all after thoughts. Hence the BI industry as it has evolved, backfilling something that in hindsight should always have been there.

The question is ‘where to next?’ The problems Jim sees are already in the wind.

Last year, I recorded a fascinating video with a technical lead from Camelot, operator of the UK’s National Lottery (see above.) At the time, they were experimenting with HANA, SAP’s high speed database. The problem they saw was that the speed at which they could return answers to queries against massive data volumes was likely to create a situation where they would be hard pressed to work out which questions need to take priority. That doesn’t require data scientists but a partnership between IT and the business to better understand how the need for certain answers best fits strategic objectives. Longer term, you can envisage a situation where questions evolve and become more nuanced.

I suspect that Jim has an answer up his sleeve somewhere. His employer, Workday, has been working on embedded analytics in its HR and financial solutions from the get go. The results I’ve seen so far are impressive. We shall have to wait and see how this story develops but it is a strong opening challenge. What do you think? Talk back in comments.