Recent experiences with some well-known businesses have made me wonder if managers know how their organisations suffer from their employees’ interpretation of their “process”. And if they care. Here is a series of 3 short stories.
After attending a trade fair in Bangalore recently, I returned to London on a British Airways flight, leaving at 650am on a Monday morning. The flight was quite empty. A senior colleague was returning as well, but in a different class. So I thought, let’s ask for a possible upgrade for him. This is how the conversation went.
Me: Hi. My colleague and I were both here on a British trade delegation. So we fly BA naturally. Is there a way for you to upgrade him so we can travel back together?
BA CSA: Madam, the flight is quite empty. So we have no need to offer any upgrades.
At 5am, it took me a couple of seconds to figure the logic of this explanation. The airline would bump up some travellers if the lower cabins are over-booked and customers need to be accommodated. Of course, one could also be amongst those who get bumped off the flight altogether from an over-booked flight because it may serve the airline’s need. But we shall leave that aside for the moment. So in an empty flight, there is no need to upgrade anyone.
Business logic also tells us that once the plane is committed to a route, the operating cost is more or less fixed. So this was clearly a chance to be nice to a regular customer. Besides, we had not ruled out paying, but the CSA presumed we would not pay. So I persisted.
A recession is the time to work harder to keep the few customers you still have.
Me: I understand that logic but to someone who does not know how your industry works, it can sound odd. Of course as a trade delegation, we fly BA as much for the symbolism as for anything else.
BA CSA: Madam, we have no need to offer upgrades because the flight is quite empty. But if you can get me a signed authority from someone, I can do an upgrade. That is the process.
By now we had heard twice about the “airline’s need” to offer or not offer upgrades. We were then offered “hierarchy” as possible mitigation by way of “process”. At 5am. I gave up. This was a negotiation I was not going to succeed at.
I must however admit I admire the tenacity of the BA CSA. Her business logic and stick-to-it-iveness were impeccable. But on the other hand, the CSA also missed an easy chance to make a neat profit by selling an upgrade to a customer, who had woken at 330am to make the flight and would have relished a chance to stretch out and sleep.
And what about goodwill?
Especially at a time when BA is making losses? Of course BA is cutting costs. But is it naive to expect that they would focus as much on try to retain the paying custom they still have? Never mind the chance to make revenue that was lost. Ironically, I had travelled on a promotional ticket while the colleague had paid for his.