The British Airways pilot who got off his bum! How to wow customers with the unremarkable

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ba pilotLast week I witnessed something that I consider to be incredibly unusual. In a world where it is more uncommon than not for consumers to have their expectations exceeded, I was actually bowled over by what I experienced. ‘Bowling over’ a career Customer Experience ‘nut’ is not that easy to do! What makes the experience all the more amazing, is that what actually happened is not really anything that remarkable!! So how can anyone be ‘wowed’ by the ‘unremarkable’? Let me explain….

Very early on Friday morning I boarded a British Airways flight from Paris Orly airport to London Heathrow. Everything was going to plan and we were scheduled to arrive five minutes early. It was only on our descent into London that the pilot advised that there was a minor problem – thick fog.

Fog is a weather condition not particularly conducive to seamless air travel – the pilot had to ask all passengers to turn off their electronic devices due to an order from air traffic control in London. Whilst a little bumpy, we landed without issue and on time.

I was then due to take a connecting flight from Heathrow to Manchester at 10:20. The gate was announced as normal – all passengers arrived at the gate to board at the allotted time of 09:50. Still with me???? At 10:20, as the throng of passengers were still seated at the gate, it became clear that we were not going to be leaving on time. The ground staff had not said anything at this stage. At 10:30, they announced that the flight would be leaving at 10:50 – the only explanation given was the pretty standard ‘late arrival of the aircraft’.

At  approximately 10:45, we started boarding. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits, despite the delay – we just assumed that the fog was the culprit and there is not a lot any airline can do about that! Once the boarding was complete, we sat and waited for the aircraft to leave.

Five minutes or so later, the pilot started to make an announcement. Nothing unusual about that. However, as I looked up, I saw that he was not making the announcement from the security and safety of the cockpit, he was standing bang in the middle of the cabin at the front of the aircraft. The captain proceeded, in an incredibly human way, to advise his passengers of exactly what was going on. The flight had indeed been delayed by fog – but in addition, one of the tyres had a slight tear in it, so had to be replaced.

Even BA are powerless to control the temperamental British weather!

Even BA are powerless to control the temperamental British weather!

Continuing his communication, the pilot advised that boarding had to start late, as a tyre cannot be replaced with passengers on the plane – ‘you would not change a tyre on a car with passengers in the vehicle either’, he told us. Apologising for the delay and inconvenience (sincerely), he gave us an idea of how long we would have to wait for the flight to leave and completed the usual announcements he would have normally made from the cockpit.

Now I fly a lot – as regular readers of my blog are fully aware. This is one of the most emotionally engaging acts I have experienced in all my years of flying. This man did not follow a rule book. This British Airways employee did not sit on his seat and hide behind a door delivering a robotic insincere message. This wonderful ambassador for British Airways treated his customers as real people – almost certainly showing them the courtesy that he would like someone to show him.

I could hear murmurings of approval from all the passengers around me. When I told the cabin manager how impressed I was (I was keen that he told the captain what a great thing he did), the cabin manager told me how lovely it is when a captain is brave enough to do that kind of thing!

So that is what ‘wowed’ me – something as unremarkable as a pilot getting off his bum and addressing his customers in person, had a dramatic effect on improving what could have been seen as a negative experience. In fact, I would argue that his actions, made the experience memorable for the right reasons – I completely forgave British Airways for any inconvenience the delay caused me – I might not have done if this captain had not done what he did.

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This is a great example of someone doing what they normally do differently. Too often, humans do things that they are comfortable with. When it comes to interacting with customers, this regularly translates into as little personal interaction as possible! I regularly meet with senior leaders who are almost scared to meet and talk to customers. The thing is, when you do things the way they have always been done – the things that are in your ‘comfort zone’, it is very unlikely that you are going to ‘wow’ anyone. Even if you meet a customers expectation, to go that step further and ‘wow’ the customer, you need to sometimes step out of the comfort zone.

What this British Airways pilot did was just that – he delivered a little bit of magic. Although I cannot remember his name, this man is a credit to his profession and his company. British Airways now need to encourage similar behaviour from all of their staff – if they want to consistently improve the Customer Experience and exceed customer expectation, let others learn from this example and get more pilots bums off seats (when appropriate of course!!!)!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ian Golding, CCXP
A highly influential freelance CX consultant, Ian advises leading companies on CX strategy, measurement, improvement and employee advocacy techniques and solutions. Ian has worked globally across multiple industries including retail, financial services, logistics, manufacturing, telecoms and pharmaceuticals deploying CX tools and methodologies. An internationally renowned speaker and blogger on the subject of CX, Ian was also the first to become a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) Authorised Resource & Training Provider.

1 COMMENT

  1. I think you managed to make a great point with your comments on how the Pilot by being forthright was able to explain in his own words why there was a delay. Generally people would like to get the straight story. It seems like we all are seeking a good experience, and while we are not pleased when things don’t function the way they should, we would rather know why. Let’s get back to basics. My issue is with people taking the time and courtesy to reply to someone who sends letters, e-mails and makes comments. Just a thank you would be well received.

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