Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Thank you, British Airways

Consumers have from the beginning of consumerism chosen every day where to invest our dollars, ducats, or denarii. We ought not overlook the power of that choice.

With that truism in mind, here's the story of how and why I chose British Airways for my imminent trip to Singapore. The story illustrates both the power of an educated consumer as well as the psychological impact of attentive and personalized customer service.

Several airlines fly the Boston-Europe-Singapore route, including U.S. and non-U.S. flag carriers. I chose British Airways because of the following reasons:

1) Convenience: The fight I chose leaves Boston in the morning and arrives at Heathrow shortly after 7 p.m local time. It departs shortly after 9 p.m. and arrives in Singapore Friday evening at 5 p.m local time. This minimizes layover time and the disruption of my normal biorhythms. The schedules of other carriers were simply not as convenient.

2) Price: On such a long trip, it's preferable to fly B-class. But if you can't afford it, BA offers "World Traveler Plus": Premium economy class that gives passengers more leg room, a deeper seat recline, and the privacy of a different section. The price for premium economy isn't that much more than "World Traveler" (economy) class, and on long flights like theses, the extra room and privacy are well worth the investment. No U.S. flag carrier offers premium economy on this particular route, so this was a no-brainer.

3) Customer service: We've come to accept that the customer service of U.S. flag carriers is, well, substandard. When I called BA to select a seat in advance of the flight, they explained that seating assignment opened 24 hours before the flight. Because I am traveling alone, I offered to sit in one of the single seats in premium economy class. It was a ploy, and I'm sure the representative with whom I was speaking (who did NOT have an Indian accent, but rather a crisp British one) recognized it as such. Nevertheless, she graciously accepted my "offer" and assigned me to that seat. What's more, she assigned me preferable seats for each leg of my trip, to and from Singapore. I very much doubt a CSR for a U.S. flag carrier would offer to go that extra mile.

4) Online check-in: While this is standard for all airlines, British Airways adds a few touches that make it seem special. For example: They have a checklist for international travelers (I've traveled internationally a lot but it helps to have a checklist of items you need to ease border crossings); they acknowledged my special meal and asked me if I wanted email confirmation of that special order; they offered "Skymall" products they felt might make the trip a little easier. All unnecessary touches that made me feel valued.

Being a "marketing guy" I generally recognize when I'm being sold or up-sold. I know the language, I know the tactics, I know the tools. Even though British Airways used the language, the tactics and the tools, I didn't feel pressured.

On the contrary, having educated myself and following a positive customer service experience, I felt grateful that they were offering me products/services I might find valuable or useful on my long journey. I was happy to be exposed to those purchasing opportunities...

Who knows? I may buy those customized airline slippers after all.

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