In the past month I had a bad experience with British Airways.

In short, I left my iPad on a plane and it took six days for them to find it and charge me for its safe return.

This post is more about the way BA handled my issues both online and offline and how there are a lot of flaws in its customer service and social media management.

I’ll write about my experience as objectively as possible while still providing actionable tips.

The prelude:

On a flight from JFK to Heathrow, I was supposed to land with two hours to wait for my connecting flight to Manchester.

However, the arrival was delayed, and I was left with just 20 minutes to change terminals for the next flght. In the midst of this I did a dumb thing and left my iPad on the plane.

I decided to tweet @HeathrowAirport to see if anyone could provide immediate help:

@HeathrowAirport left my ipad on my flight from jfk just now. Got a connecting flight in 20mins.any way you can help?

— Alex Moss (@alexmoss) June 5, 2014

1. If you have a social account, interact in good time

It took @HeathrowAirport three minutes to reply to me (which is great), directing me to speak to @British_Airways.

Within those three minutes I had been asking more than one member of BA staff not only where to go for my connecting flight but also what I could do about the iPad.

No ground staff knew so I was advised to wait in the customer service queue which would take 30 minutes to clear, which obviously wasn’t possible for me.

@HeathrowAirport @British_Airways on the plane now. I wasn’t willing to wait in the customer service queue and miss the flight…

— Alex Moss (@alexmoss) June 5, 2014

An important thing to take in mind at this point is that BA’s press office later confirmed to me that the Twitter handle @British_Airways is always monitored, at least within office hours, by an internal team of more than one person.

Chasing up

Once I got back to Manchester I filled out the form as instructed by @HeathrowAirport. Four days later I was in no better position, and even got the classic runaround after a 40 minute wait on the phone to customer services:

.@British_Airways @HeathrowAirport just spoke to Manuj at BA, told me to call lost property. Lost property told me to call BA. WTF?!

— Alex Moss (@alexmoss) June 9, 2014

2. Always research before addressing the complainer

An hour later, and four days since the incident, I finally got my first response from @British_Airways:

@alexmoss Alex, is there anything we can help with or point you in the right direction of?

— British Airways (@British_Airways) June 9, 2014

The lesson: if you’re a large brand and have to interact with customers in a rush (such as trying to board a plane) then ensure your team respond as quickly as possible.

3. Don’t provide the wrong advice

After asking what my issue was again we started having a conversation which included two notable tweets. The first was that my iPad was assumed as gone forever:

@alexmoss It sounds like the item was not handed in Alex as they are usually processed within 48 hours.

— British Airways (@British_Airways) June 9, 2014

The second tweet advised me to contact my travel insurance provider:

@alexmoss There is nothing further we can suggest. Perhaps you could contact your travel insurance provider who may be able to assist.

— British Airways (@British_Airways) June 9, 2014

To note here, this is not the correct advice. I was told later that lost property can take up to seven days but this was only mentioned when the iPad was found.

I was emailed the day after this conversation to let me know that my iPad had been handed in (six days later) but was told to pay £37.50 for its safe return.

I was aware, and still am, that technically it’s my responsibility to take my belongings off the plane but due to the facts mentioned earlier thought I could speak to someone about my experience.

The lesson: provide the correct advice to avoid frustrated customers, or ensure you are at least consistent.

4. If you’re managing customer service on Twitter, interact and try to resolve the issue

Unfortunately BA wasn’t running on that ethos as I wasn’t given a reply to some simple questions:

.@British_Airways are you selective with responses? Still no word from you. Spoke to someone who promised to email me. Heard nothing

— Alex Moss (@alexmoss) June 12, 2014

If I was working in BA’s social media team I’d ensure that a reply was sent to me as soon as possible. Unfortunately no reply was sent to this tweet.

Indeed, a Lithium survey found that 53% of customers who ask a brand a question on Twitter expect a response within one hour.

However, if a customer makes a complaint to a brand using Twitter, that figure goes up to 72%.

My email sent to customer service was also unanswered after three days. I decided to call customer service to wait in a 55 minute queue.

@alexmoss Sorry to hear you are having problems getting through to us, we understand it can be frustrating.

— British Airways (@British_Airways) June 19, 2014

This cryptic tweet was the last sent to me. In my opinion this is a massive communications failure from the social team, unless of course they are instructed not to engage negative tweets too much (which I was told they don’t).

The lesson: never ignore tweets that ask for help that you can solve. Even if feedback is negative you have the opportunity to put things right and retain some sort of positive end for any customer.

Never state the obvious, especially when the obvious will cause more frustration.

5. Remain consistent to your brand message

The 55 minute wait was not in vain. I spoke to a customer services manager and was told a few things which was later confirmed in an email by BA.

I’ll share two of these statements:

The fact there was no support readily available for you on arrival, to help with your connection, shows we still have work to do. While I am pleased we were able to rebook you on a slightly later flight to Manchester, it would have eased the situation had we proactively informed you of this. Without this stress, you would have known you could take the time to ensure you had all of your belongings before you left your first flight.

To me, this statement admits that at least to some degree, BA accept some responsibility for me rushing off a plane.

Any items found by crew or cleaners, go to their own designated local office. Throughout the day these items are collected and taken to Bagport, though it may take up to 72 hours for items to reach Bagport’s office.

It took six days to reach me and is inconsistent with both the tweets and what I was later told by BA officials. There’s clear confusion between messages.

What wasn’t confirmed in that email but was over the phone was that I was told a team of at least five people work on the social media team.

The lesson: don’t be inconsistent, especially in such public manners as tweets. If another customer had seen that, they would have assumed any advice was correct information, which can lead to more unhappy customers.

6. If you’re speaking on behalf of the brand, do your research

After speaking to someone in the Digital Innovations team of BA (not the same internal team who deal with customer services) about the lack of communication I was routed back to usual customer services route… until I mentioned the word ‘Econsultancy’.

As soon as this was done I was given an email to the press office. I was connected to a member of staff who had clearly not done any research into my issue and sent me a very generic email about how it was my responsibility to take the iPad with me which is why I was being charged.

This was of course a valid point, but not the reason I wanted to hear from her. I wanted to understand more about the poor customer services.

I spoke to Nicola on the phone and from the call it was clear that she had not been given any of the facts of the case prior to the conversation; and admitted that she assumed that all I was doing was trying to get some money back.

Although that would have been nice I still asked her to answer these three specific questions amongst others that previously went unanswered:

  1. Why were only certain tweets replied to, and why some took more than 72 hours knowing that it was consistently monitored?
  2. Why a customer service manager said she had the choice to refund anything she wanted to but decided not to based on the facts?
  3. Why did you assume I was only trying to speak to the press office to get less than £50 back?

It took 24 hours for Nicola to respond by email after our call. Noting the three questions above, here are extracts of the response from Nicola:

We’re sorry that you had a lengthy wait on the phone to report that you had left an item on one of our aircraft, but at the time all of our agents were exceptionally busy.

As is standard practice, when you reported to us that you’d left your device behind, you were advised to contact the Lost Property team at Heathrow Airport, which holds all lost items. This is a third party company contracted by the airport, which all carriers hand their lost luggage to.

We’re sorry that you feel we let you down by not responding immediately to your tweets. We respond as quickly as we can, but we prioritise those that require urgent action. During busy periods, it does take longer to get back to customers. We are looking at ways of improving our service.

Unless I’ve missed something, I cannot see any reference to answering my three questions.

The lesson: if a customer asks you very specific questions, don’t be vague. Furthermore, don’t simply write an email that looks in any way on-script to avoid some sort of liability.

This only disconnects you with your already dissatisfied customer.

The priority: always try to retain the client

There are two things about this whole incident that made me think about the ways brands can improve their interaction with customers.

The first is that even after the final email sent by Nicola (representing BA as a brand), my three questions were never answered and still aren’t today.

This of course is extremely frustrating as a customer. There’s no answer as to why the social team took four days to respond to a feed that is supposedly monitored at all times.

The second observation is that, if BA was more considerate on a case-by-case basis and the £37.50 was actually reimbursed, I would have not only stopped pursuing anything but BA would also have kept me as a customer.

This is the problem with some larger corporations’ attitude towards dissatisfied customers and unfortunately BA is no different.

In summary… invest in your customers and they’ll appreciate it

For the sake of an investment of less than £50, BA has been willing to waste hours of my time and hours of BA internal resource which has only resulted in negative brand attitude.

That investment would have increased chances of customer retention and minimised any possibility of negative brand reputation. 

It does seem that incidents like this have happened earlier with another Twitter user, so much so that he was willing to invest nearly $1,000 into a promoted tweet against British Airways.

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