Better late and happy than just late
1. Is Fiona a particularly tolerant person, or was she right to be
impressed by the way that BA reacted?
We do know that Fiona is a researcher with interest in customer service.
Academics tend to be disproportionately critical in their area of expertise, so
BA must have done a lot of good things to impress her! There is ample
evidence of a staged approach to apology, which is designed to minimise
stress and uncertainty. The passengers were kept informed of progress and
their convenience was always put first. For example, they were kept on the
plane to begin with, to avoid the effort of disembarkation, but were taken off
when longer delays were predicted. Opportunities to apologise and empathise
were used effectively, but not excessively. Above all, all the contact staff went
to great lengths to provide whatever individuals needed, going far beyond
symbolic atonement, even into the area of expensive chauffeur-driven
transport on arrival, etc.
Fiona is certainly right to be impressed, but wouldn't this have been an
extremely expensive recovery? Could BA have 'got away' with less? Much
less care and provision would have been possible, but the reaction of
customers could lead to memorable scenes of conflict and hostility. Although
insured customers could claim compensation, this does not absolve BA from
the need to leave positive memories of the incident, particularly as they would
then be more likely to fly BA again.
2. Draw up a 'failure plan' for delays of this type. How could it help the
airline to improve its recovery procedures further?
Students will probably use the four-stage model described in the chapter as a
basis for their plan. These could be discussed as follows:
In the case of delayed departures as described in the case, the pilot is often
the first crew member to know of the delay and its probable duration. The
facts surrounding the technical problem have to be filtered and translated
before being communicated to passengers, to avoid unnecessary alarm. This
process must be well planned and forms part of flight deck crew training.
Emergencies in flight (such as engine fires) must be 'translated' into layman
terms to avoid panic and hysterical reactions. All technical eventualities on the
ground and in the air are planned from a technical and communication point of
In general, passengers trust the professionalism of the pilot, and hence
he/she (rather than cabin crew) is usually chosen to make announcements
concerning technical issues such as delays and turbulence. The emphasis in
this case is on informing customers, so planning must include procedures for
obtaining information on flight connections, etc.
The need to provide information continues after landing, and plans must be in
place to provide customer support staff in sufficient numbers, either at
departure or arrival situations.
The air travel industry has made enormous progress in reducing the
frequency and duration of technical delays. Much of this has come from better
design of aircraft and more efficient maintenance procedures. Even delays
caused by weather conditions have been reduced by the application of new
technology. Severe delays are therefore less common, but provide the
opportunity to learn how to recover better. Because they are less frequent,
generous compensation and atonement should be more affordable, but
should be planned for and tested just as for any new product or service. Each
incident should be carefully monitored to record the facts: how many
customers were involved, the quantity and nature of complaints, the cost of
recovery, etc. Follow-up calls to customers can provide feedback for further
The failure plan can be refined periodically based on the evidence from the
Learn stage. Students invariably propose various improvements to the
process described in the case, but not all are practical and some are very
costly. Empowerment must have its boundaries: a good debating point!
3. When are failure and recovery particularly important to an operation?
Repetitive failure in an operation is often seen as a sign of poor management
of processes. Some organisations are particularly successful at preventing
avoidable mistakes through fail-safe devices (Poka Yoke), and others prevent
mistakes being seen by customers (buffered out by inventory and inspection
processes). Customer processing operations generally do not have these
protections and failure may be, at least in part, beyond the control of
operations. For example, the disruptive effects of weather on travel and
leisure events, and the effects of unruly customers on others.
In these cases, good recovery procedures can leave a lasting positive
impression on customers' perceptions. Recovery does not just happen, it must
be planned for, and staff must be trained to be competent at it. Some
organisations even make a whole business of it: the motoring organisations
such as the Automobile Association (AA) and the Royal Automobile Club
(RAC) in the UK provide recovery services for motor manufacturers'
customers. Break-downs in the first few years of car ownership could be
unpleasant and time-consuming experiences, but through efficiencies of scale
and carefully planned processes, the motoring organisations provide tailor-
made services for the manufacturers. The recovery services provided are
both office-based (information processing) and material processing (getting
the car working again). Similar businesses exist in the consumer durables
(TV, hi-fi, washing machines, etc.) markets.
Food manufacturers have specialised departments to deal with complaints. It
is critical for them to learn from failure and to avoid adverse publicity.
Dissatisfied customers have the potential to refer their complaints to official
regulatory bodies and to the media.