British Airways: the brand that knew too much?

British Airways has launched Know Me, a new approach to customer service that gives flight and airport staff immediate access to customer data on iPads. It will be a powerful tool, but BA must be careful what it does with it.


Announced at Marketing Week Live at London’s Olympia exhibition centre, Know Me will allow BA staff in airports and on planes to see each passenger’s history of flying with BA, including a record of complaints they’ve made. It also links customers’ profiles to pictures of them from Google Images.

The idea is that staff can assist customers or resolve issues in person, in real time and with knowledge of that individual’s preferences. BA head of revenue and customer analysis Jo Boswell told the Marketing Week Live audience: “Solving problems at the point of failure is a lot more powerful than waiting until after the event. It is more powerful when customers don’t have to repeat their stories to different departments within BA.”

Boswell could well be right about that, and BA’s trials showed an improvement in customer satisfaction, she says. But BA also needs to be wary, because if it doesn’t deal with the data sensitively, it could find itself handling a hot PR potato.

At face value, Know Me is obviously well intentioned. However, where it comes to commercial use of their personal data, consumers have become cynical – and, moreover, journalists were born that way. It will only take one false move by BA for the story to be spun in a much more sinister way.

While Boswell says customers have so far welcomed the individual approaches they get from staff acting on information from Know Me, some will inevitably find it intrusive. Some will feel affronted that they are receiving special treatment because they’ve previously complained, while others will take advantage of it. And some will be shocked to learn that BA is storing their images.

BA will need to train its staff thoroughly – firstly so they know how best to address customers, and secondly so they aren’t tempted to abuse the information they have at their fingertips, rather than using it to improve their passengers’ experience.

Know Me could be a powerful weapon for BA, enabling it to tailor its service to individuals in a way its competitors can’t. But it needs to be careful not to trip itself up and fall on its own sword.

Find out more details of how BA’s Know Me system works in my round-up feature from Marketing Week Live, out on 12th July.


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