Cleve Gibbon

content management, content modelling, digital ecosystems, technology evangelist.

Brand Purpose and Loyalty

A brand must have clear purpose and live by it in order to retain loyal customers. Brand purpose and loyalty.  Today I’d like to share a short story about how easy it is to shatter loyalty when a brand’s behaviour does not live up to publicised purpose.  It’s a story about a lost bag, that led to lost loyalty because of the brand’s lost purpose.

Why is this important? Because in 10 years, it’s predicted that 40% of the Fortune 500 companies will no longer exist as things that were once scarce become abundant.   Technology, data and infrastructure are no longer scarce.  They are accessible to the masses.  Tomorrows winners are those that can differentiate on providing customer experiences to live the up to the brand purpose. All day, everyday. Here’s how not to do it.

Brand Purpose and Loyalty

We’re talking about British Airways (BA).  BA’s core value is: To Fly. To Serve. What does that mean? According to BA it means:

Brand Purpose and Loyal BA

…the passion and expertise that we set out to demonstrate every day, delivering a unique combination of unrivalled flying know-how along with a personalised and thoughtful service experience that exudes British style and sophistication.

I’ve been a long standing member of the BA Executive Programme, flying with BA for many years. I considered myself a loyal customer. I flew. They served. Last week they dropped the ball. The very quickly forgot I was the customer. They swiftly retreated behind legal doctrine. They no longer served. And given an option, I would no longer want to fly with BA. What went wrong?

The ‘Lost’ Bag

In early August, I flew from London to Chicago on a family trip. On the return leg, I checked in four bags but only three made it back.  BA left the bag in Chicago. No big deal. BA took my details at the baggage service desk in London and said the bag will be on one of the next outbound flights. I inform them that I need my bag because it has all my holiday clothes in, chargers, and accessories in that I need for my 8-day trip to Ibiza in 6 days time. No problem they say, should be with you within 48 hours.

  • Day One: BA took the wrong bag number. So their IT systems saw that it had made it back to London and closed the case. I hear nothing.
  • Day Two: I ring up 24 hours later. BA acknowledge the mistake and say it’ll be on the next flight. They ask me to add details via their website so that they can identify the bag. Their web page doesn’t work. I can’t add the details.
  • Day Three: I ring up a couple of times. They take my details and start the search for my bag. They can’t find it.
  • Day Four: BA are still looking for my bag. They find it. But can’t get it on a flight. Apparently the Chicago baggage folks are hard to get hold of.
  • Day Five: Bag still in Chicago. Chicago baggage folks are dealing with it Mr Gibbon. I’m not going to get it before my Ibiza trip. I phone again (and again) and ask what to do. Finally, I get Lewis who proceeds to handles my case on behalf of Customer Relations. He’s good.

In fact, let me show you what Lewis wrote:

Thanks for your time on the phone today. It was lovely speaking with you.

As discussed, it’s important to us that we offer each of our customers outstanding service and I know this wasn’t the case when you travelled. We try to make sure all bags are handled correctly when they’re within our care, and I absolutely agree we’ve let you down.

If a bag misses a flight for any reason, we’ll certainly send it to you as soon as possible. We know how important it is for you to have your belongings, however sometimes we have the wrong information and we can’t send your bag to you until we’ve completed our investigations. This means the process can take longer than expected.

I completely understand how difficult it must be for you to be without your bag and I’d really like to resolve this claim quickly for you.

I feel good. I feel served. Lewis knows how to serve.  He makes me want to fly with BA. He opens a ticket and tells my to buy the essentials for my Ibiza trip and BA will reimburse them.  Okay good, I will not be naked.

  • Day Six: I buy the essentials for clothing and swimwear so I have something to wear when I hit the ground.  It totals around £350. I ring up again and try to get my bag routed to Ibiza to I don’t have to incur any further costs. BA recommend I don’t re-route the bag and to wait until I return from my Ibiza trip.
  • Day Seven: I fly to Ibiza without my bag and with a handful of essentials.

During the holiday, I need more stuff, mostly clothes.  It totals around £450. I do without a lot of stuff. Chargers (you noticed no FitBit activity), cables, few items of clothing, accessories, shavers and scents that are now in my bag in Heathrow London.   I send my receipts totally £450 to BA whilst in Ibiza and get reimburse there. I submit my £350 receipt when I return back from Ibiza because I didn’t take it on holiday with me. This is where the fun begins.

The ‘Lost’ Loyalty

At this point, I’m still a loyal customer, but chasing BA customer relations with tiring after many phone calls.   The day after I arrive back from my Ibiza trip I submit my £350 request.  I get a call from BA Customer Relations.  It’s not Lewis.

• I’m sorry Mr Gibbon, we cannot reimburse this request because it’s for another trip. So we will not pay for them. Okay?

Not okay. After explaining it’s for the Ibiza and under your instruction to buy the essentials, the young operator confers with her duty manager and comes back with:

• I’m sorry Mr Gibbon, we understand it’s for your Ibiza trip but we still cannot reimburse you because we don’t think these items are essential. So we will not pay for them. Okay?

Not okay.  I ask to speak to her manager to explain The ‘Lost’ Bag saga. That’s when I meet Tracy. She is the Duty Manager for Customer Relations, who repeats the position. She is not prepared To Serve. In fact, Tracy outright refuses to take ownership for the decision. Instead, she pushes forward a faceless BA and quotes legal doctrine to me. Tracy cuts to the chase and tells she is denying the request and I should pick this up with my travel insurance.  There is no apology for the convenience.  No customer empathy.  Just a blanket yes but no.  When pushed, Tracy maintains that she is not personally denying the request, but according to BA’s T&C and whatever else, the request is denied. After five minutes of further discussion, she admits that as the Duty Manager for Customer Relations she is denying the request. Furthermore, if I want to complain about, it would be to her because complaints are handled as part of the customer relations function.  No where to go.

It’s odd.  Having lost my bag, failed to take the correct baggage details, pointed me to a website that was I unable to submit additional baggage information, failure to find by bag or send it to me, advised to buy essentials, advised me to not to send the bag to my holiday destination, BA think they are providing a personalised and thoughtful service.

The ‘Lost’ Purpose

The ‘Lost’ bag story, lost my loyalty in the BA brand. Why? It’s only £350. I fly with BA a lot and spend orders of magnitude more with them. It’s not about the money. It’s about the brand purpose. BA fell well short of that causes me to revisit them as brand I believe in. I don’t.  So much so, it drove me to write this post. They have lost my loyalty and I don’t think they care.  I had to take time out to buy stuff I didn’t need both before and during my holiday. So I have started to look at alternative carriers for my popular destinations.  And guess what, I’m finding them. I will continue to use BA out of necessity but will not advocate for them. My relationship with BA has fundamentally changed.

To Fly.  To Serve.  I think they have that the wrong way round.  To Serve. To Fly.  Service trumps Product.

It’s so important that brands today communicate their purpose and live it up to it.  That is the only way to keep customers loyal to the brand.  That requires “thoughtful” personalised experiences at every touchpoint.  If Tracy was the weakest link, the brand needs to engage with a stronger one.  Unfortunately, that was not forthcoming.




Category: brand


One Response

  1. […] back to a brand having clear purpose and living by it in order to retain loyal customers.  I spoke brand value fails before, citing the British Airways fail (which they have since written to me and told me they […]

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About Cleve Gibbon

I'm a technologist passionate about enabling consumers, employees, and clients do more with less, whilst having fun at the same time.

My sort of up-to-date cv tells you my past, linked in shows you my professional network and on twitter you can find out what I'm currently doing.