Has BA lost the digital plot?
Finally trying to haul itself into the 21st century, technology-wise, is British Airways a day late and a dollar short with its latest offering? Carl Uminski, co-founder of SOMO believes so…
"Late last year, British Airways gifted itself an early Christmas present in the form of two robots designed to pootle round Terminal 5 relocating lost travellers and offering real-time flight information. Sadly, most shiny tech gifts are fun for a few minutes but largely pointless and never quite live up to the promises on the box. BA’s robots are no exception.
The first, most obvious problem is there are two robots to help out the 90,000 passengers who travel through Terminal 5 every day. Each robot can only interact with one person at any given time. The point of robot automation is to save tens, even hundreds – potentially thousands – of staff yoked to simple and repetitive tasks. These robots are doing the work of two people. You could argue four or even six if they can run 24 hours without a charge.
Fair enough, the robots can ‘interact with passengers in multiple different languages … to answer thousands of questions’ which might be beyond the scope of even the cheeriest customer service agent but then, so can Google. And every passenger has that in their pocket.
Like every other airline, BA has an app but, without any baked-in approach to innovation, it has somehow conspired to develop one of the worst in the industry. And here’s the rub. Robots aren’t the game-changing innovation that is going to revolutionise our national carrier. They’re just PR gloss which, as we’ve discovered in most companies with more fundamental problems, doesn’t last long.
Consistent page time-outs, links not working and a facade that covers up really bad web views all make for terribly user experience at a time when competitors are much further along their digital transformation journey and customer expectations are high.
Research suggests that 68% of passengers will be digital travellers by 2025, including using apps to navigate airports, check-in, pay for food and entertainment and use mobile boarding. Automation is going to become the norm but airline brand experience will depend on the seamlessness of the whole operation. BA’s current digital offering is far from seamless. It is paying lip-service to keeping up-to-date but the stack it is working on is clearly out of date and needs modernising.
It’s all the more tragic when you realise that it’s not hard to be a bit – or even a good deal – better. There is still time for BA to take stock and really invest properly in its digital experience. If the journey through the airport were simplified with a robust, functional mobile experience, you wouldn’t need low level robots escorting lost passengers to baggage check. If you invested money in your app using wayfinding and gate information in the same way as easyJet (a company we have worked with in the past), passengers wouldn’t get lost in the first place.
Clearly, the airline has a few more issues than just a wonky app – strikes and technology platform issues will need more than a bit of code to sort out. But it’s hard to name one thing the company is doing well right now. With so much going on, BA may be avoiding taking a deeper look at its digital strategy for the time being. But the simple act of getting one thing right, particularly a customer-facing thing, can garner a lot of goodwill. Something the brand needs in spades."
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Editor in chief Bev Fearis has been a travel journalist for 25 years. She started her career at Travel Weekly, where she became deputy news editor, before joining Business Traveller as deputy editor and launching the magazine’s website. She has also written travel features, news and expert comment for the Guardian, Observer, Times, Telegraph, Boundless and other consumer titles and was named one of the top 50 UK travel journalists by the Press Gazette.