12 Jun

The lesson we can learn from BA

There are plenty of opinions to be heard about the tech problems that British Airways suffered and the way the downtime was handled.  It surely has to rank as one of the worst public relations disasters in the airline’s history. 

It didn’t have to be like that.  A seriously disruptive technology issue such as that experienced by the airline is a moment of opportunity.  The opportunity is to show the world how much you are concerned about your customers.  Taking care of your customers in adverse circumstance should lead to an increase in the value of your brand equity as your company demonstrates its professionalism in the face of adversity.  You need to think about what I call the Three Cs - Communication, Care and Compensation.  Keep in frequent contact with your customers, updating them on the situation even if just to say there is no news yet.  Take action to show them you care.  Be ready to compensate them sufficiently that they will feel that you have done right by them.

Incidents such as this give your company the opportunity to demonstrate that the contingency plan for media and customer communications that you have put in place in the event of serious disruption or disaster works and works well.  I wonder whether BA actually had such a plan?

Apart from illustrating the need for a customer communication strategy and applying the Three Cs, there is a very good lesson to be learnt, one that several of my clients have learnt the hard way in the past.  I am reminded of a tour operator I was consulting with some years ago.  The IT infrastructure included a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) that would allow the reservation system server to shut down cleanly in the event of a power failure.  The day came when the power did indeed fail.  The system did not shut down but just cut out immediately, corrupting the system database.  This required the previous day’s back up to be restored, so losing all the bookings that had been entered into the system that day.  Luckily, this was pre-Internet and call centre staff were able to dig various bits of hand written notes out of their waste paper bins and re-enter virtually all the bookings into the system. 

Why didn’t the UPS work?  When I was asked to take a look, you could see that the lead connecting the UPS battery to its charger just hadn’t been plugged in.  Not a mistake that BA would make, I am sure.

So what can we learn?  The message is “know your vulnerabilities.”  You need to take time to audit your system infrastructure.  You need to understand what might go wrong because if it might, it will.  You then have two courses of action available to you. 

  1. You can address any potential issues directly.  For example, if you have the one system server that might go down, why not mirror it with another server at another location so that your business can simply switch between the two? 
  2. If you don’t want to spend the money to address any vulnerabilities the understand that you might have a failure and have a contingency plan ready prepared for how you are going to apply the Three Cs to those affected. 

Be prepared and guard against your brand value disappearing down the drain.