B2B Brand Experience.

It’s been a while since I gave the BA brand a kicking for providing a thoroughly shit customer brand experience.

After my last BA brand experience, I’ve simply chosen to fly with other airlines. It’s a small protest, but one that makes me feel like a valuable customer when the brand makes me feel like I’m not. Last time I was stranded in Phoenix, this time I was stranded by striking baggage handlers in Milano (dahlinks…).

At this stage of my prodigious B2B brand marketing career, business travel has little to offer. The general tedium and nonproductive time spent travelling to and from airports, taking off shoes and belts, being pointlessly prodded and swabbed by inefficient authoritarians with bad breath and ill-fitting uniforms is the ‘glamour’ of B2B marketing that I’ve learned to avoid. Fly there, be awesome, fly home. That’s about all I care about. In fact, I care so much about expediting the process, I paid BA a premium to transport me from London Heathrow to Milan and back. I could have saved hundreds by flying to and from Gatwick, but I chose life. I chose to pay top dollar. I chose Heathrow.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the return trip landed at Gatwick.

By then of course I’d had to wait 4 hours at Milan. Get on a bus to Turin. Travel 3 hours to Turin. Wait another 4 hours at Turin. Be squeezed on a flight to Gatwick. Wait an hour for a taxi. Wait another 2 hours on the M25. You get the idea. Considering the time and expense taken to limit my journey to the bare minimum, it was taking a long time not to reach my destination.

The strike had had consequential effects on my journey. That’s ok. I’m with the workers. I can certainly appreciate why they might have a grievance with BA.

But the delay wasn’t my complaint to the BA Customer Annoyance Department. My complaint was about BA profiting from my misery. I paid £450 more for a ticket from/to Heathrow. So when I was summarily dumped on the tarmac at Gatwick after 12 hours of travel trauma, it seemed ‘reasonable’ that BA should refund the premium they had charged for the Heathrow flight. Why should I have all the inconvenience and BA have all the money?

I didn’t claim for my time, or loss of earnings, or the opportunity cost, or stress, or inconvenience, or poor brand experience. I didn’t expect to be ‘rewarded’. I just didn’t expect to pay for BA’s industrial relations failures or their inability to return me to the destination printed on my ticket. So I filled in forms. I tried a couple letters, but all to no avail. In the end I was refunded the taxi fare home and told the case was closed.

But it’s no longer good enough to simply serve up your product or service and expect customers to be grateful. To expect the customer to be satisfied when your brand fails to deliver the expected experience is foolhardy.

My customer journey started when I selected the flight. Not any flight to any destination – a specific flight to a specific destination. I expected to get there, and back. That was the minimum transactional contract with the brand. But it’s only after the purchase decision has been made that brand value can be added. The user journey. The brand experience. These are the things that create brand value. If I had had a good user journey, I would feel more empathy, affinity, advocacy towards the brand. Even if the final destination had been less than ideal, a good user journey would have mitigated any negative impact on the brand. An apology. A smile. A conversation. Even just a sandwich would have helped. Despite a poor user journey, the customer experience can still be a good one. If BA had at least attempted to improve the customer experience, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to submit a claim.

Instead, at each and every BA touchpoint, indifference was met with ignorance, incompetence turned to indignation. And that was just me. Even the final safety net – customer services – wasn’t able to comprehend or improve the poor customer experience the brand was delivering.

Apply this story to your own B2B branding and content strategy. Think about the tone, frequency and timeliness of customer communications. The importance of delivering the promise – the brand experience. The need to augment ordinary performance with extraordinary service. To stay in business you need good customer experiences, and the real trick to brand loyalty is to create good customer experiences out of bad user journeys.

So (British Airways), don’t pretend to care about your customers. Actually care. You’ll probably find media coverage gets better. Brand awareness improves. So will your business.


Scot McKee