British Airways: What drives customer satisfaction and loyalty?

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British Airways World Cargo (BAWC) commissioned specialist business-to-business research agency Circle to help them transform the culture of the organisation by identifying the things that really matter to customers

British Airways World Cargo (BAWC) commissioned specialist business-to-business research agency Circle to help them transform the culture of the organisation by identifying the things that really matter to customers. The research has created a new mindset across BAWC.

The airline is now has a laser sharp focus on the ‘touch-points’ that have the biggest impact on customer satisfaction. Excellence at each customer interaction has been clearly defined and plans for attaining it put in place

And an understanding of the employee’s perspective has enabled a culture change programme which will ensure the brand promise is delivered

So what is the background to this fundamental change?

The drivers of B2B customer satisfaction and loyalty

Historically, carrier performance in the air-cargo world has been measured on the basis of extremely tangible, hard, operational metrics – numbers of waybills written, proportions of shipments flown-as-booked, success in notification of delivery, etc. Whilst recognising the relevance and importance of published performance indicators like these, BAWC questioned the extent to which they are the most influential determinants of customer loyalty.

Moreover, the airline felt that it was difficult for its people to remain completely customer focused if the only performance metrics they worked to were internal, organisation-centric measures, rather than external, customer-centric measures.

So, how then to identify what really matters to the customer? And how to align colleagues in a drive to ensure that these key behaviours are delivered to the best of their ability?

Leigh Bickerdike, BAWC’s Marketing Manager: “BAWC wanted to really get to the bottom of customer priorities, to discard conventional industry wisdom about what mattered and let the customer, not us, define excellence. In doing so we knew it would be essential to look beyond the obvious and really get under the skin of what’s driving customer loyalty. Our ultimate goal is true service excellence.”

Alongside BAWC’s Senior Management team Circle was brought into the planning process. It soon became clear that obtaining a fresh perspective would be a key driver of success and research would be central to the initiative.

Identifying ‘moments of truth’

No better place to start than with the customer. A series of in depth customer interviews were scheduled in BAWC’s principal trading locations: USA, Germany, UK, India and China. The discussions were informal and enjoyable (so we were told) which ensured participants opened up and spoke freely. Circle also used a variety of exploratory and projective techniques to identify the most important ‘moments of truth’ when customers come into contact with the airline. Importantly, the ways in which those moments of truth sometimes fail to live up to expectations and a definition of excellence was elicited.

Armed with this information the next stage was to talk to BAWC’s own people, at all levels across the organisation, through a series of focus groups. Where were they in all of this? How did they view their customer? What did they feel to be the most important customer priorities and, of course, what was preventing them from offering the best possible levels of service at each of those key moments?

Then back to the customer once again to provide a full and rounded understanding. Quantifying performance across key touch points was an important priority so as to provide a performance benchmark and then track the effectiveness of any customer service initiative over time. To this end Circle worked with the BAWC team to put in place their biggest ever customer survey. Well over 2,000 respondents offered their views on current performance and drew comparisons with competitor performance on priority touch points. Earlier qualitative findings were also verified and a variety of statistical techniques used to derive the relative impact of different behaviours on customer loyalty.

From research to action

It is important for the business that BAWC should continue to be evaluated against the accepted operational and commercial indicators that drive world air-trade. And it will be. However, a new focus on some of the considerations that the research has revealed to be important drivers of customer loyalty will help the airline to post strong results across allmeasures and, ultimately, boost the bottom line.

How have all these insights been reflected within BAWC? Our initial research had identified that employees were not always aware of, or aligned with, the concerns and priorities of customers. Equipped with the findings of the customer research, BAWC produced an internal communications and training programme designed to guide all customer facing staff through the new priorities and provide them with the tools to perform.

Well over a thousand BAWC employees took part in an intensive two day interactive training event designed entirely on the basis of the research findings. This service improvement training was supported by a high profile internal communications campaign developed by BAWC’s communications partner, BJL, outlining the targets set for service improvement on each important touch point in a visual and engaging way.

So, the template for improvement has been established, targets have been set and all are clear about what success looks like – and what it will bring. Not surprisingly Leigh Bickerdike is upbeat: “We are delighted with the progress we have made on our change-management programme and, of course, with the important contribution that Circle’s research has made.”