To fly, to serve

To fly, to serve

I have been flying recently. A lot. I used to be a British Airways customer, but like many I got drawn in by the sexy, youthful, innovative lure of Virgin. Virgin made me happy for a long time, but then I started to get bored. The thing about a young and innovative brand is that it must continue to be young and innovative. After ten years of serving me a choc ice when the movie comes on, it starts to become normal. To maintain their brand image they had to keep refreshing, keep innovating, keep being ‘ever changingly youthful’. They didn’t. I got distracted.

All the Middle Eastern and Asian airlines were doing incredible things, largest legroom in economy, USB sockets, in-air Wi-Fi, cabins in First Class. Innovations by the plane load. Where were the Brits?

Then British Airways announced their new (old) strategy ‘To fly. To serve’. I don’t remember it the first time around, but I do remember the days of BA’s straight backed, high class, proud position as ‘the British airline’ and I thought maybe they intended to recapture their glory days. I gave them another shot.

Immediately my perception changed. A flight back from New York after ‘snowmageddon’ and a completely empty economy section, the on board team offered us ‘three wishes’. We got headphones and champagne from Business Class. I won’t tell you what the third wish was! The on board team seemed to transform from a tired old guard to a smiling, more spritely bunch of concierges with their own actual personality. No request was too much trouble.

Since that time I have more or less become a completely loyal BA traveler and the service continues to improve and impress.

Now the question I have in my head is this, which came first, my belief in ‘To fly. To serve’ or an improvement in BA’s customer service? Did I give BA the benefit of the doubt, forgive them their misdemeanors (and there have certainly been many grumpy or less than helpful staff since their strategy shift) and focus only on the positive examples. Or did BA actually change their outlook and customer service so dramatically that it shifted my perception?

I have concluded that it doesn’t matter and the answer is most likely both. I am now a Gold card holder, an advocate and firmly loyal, I’m pretty sure that was their main objective.

What is clear is that a solid ‘believable’ brand strategy which has its roots in the heritage of the brand, but has a contemporary and relevant stance to it can work wonders for a brand. A strong strategy is not just about emotional connection or building a conversation, it’s about a statement of intent, ‘this is what I’m going to deliver to you and this is how it will make your life better’. It is critical to be absolutely clear to the consumer what your intent is, what you plan to deliver to them and then deliver it at every single tiny little touchpoint. In order to do this a brand cannot simply adopt a new brand template, pass it on to the ad’ agency and knock out a campaign. There must be a thorough brand engagement program for all internal teams and external partners. The people behind the brand deliver the brand, especially a service brand such as BA. The advert simply told me of their intent, but the BA staff made it real, they delivered it.

I’m on a mission to see how customer service brings to life a brand’s strategy. Well done BA, who’s next?

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