British Airways used to offer free tea in economy class on short-haul flights. Then, they changed tea brands. Unfortunately, the new tea supplier didn’t offer the tea pre-packaged in a cup like the previous one. BA might have kept the old brand or demand the new tea supplier furnish the same cups. Instead, they simply discontinued free tea. Then, they they brought it back, sort of. You can now have free tea, but only if you bring your own tea bag. In a display of generosity, BA will now give you a free cup and free hot water to go with the tea bag you provide. Want tea but forget your tea bag? They’ll provide the tea bag (with cup and hot water) for £2.50 ($3.25).
Words vs. Actions
Here’s what BA says about customers:
We are fully committed to helping each and every one of our customers enjoy the best possible experience, wherever you might be travelling.
Apparently, extensive market research convinced BA that “the best possible experience” was to make customers bring their own tea bag.
British Airways will serve you free tea 🍵 in economy - if you bring your own tea bag! Don't be like them - build customer loyalty with a simple, easy experience. #CX #FrictionHunter Click To Tweet
Getting ready for a trip is complicated enough without having to remember to pack tea bags. It’s not a huge effort, but many friction points aren’t – they just add up as part of the overall experience. Tea bags become another item on your checklist, and you’ll probably need a Ziploc bag or similar. If you do remember to pack a couple of tea bags, you will probably not be thinking good thoughts about the BA brand as you do so. If you forget and are forced to either pay or go tea-less on the flight, you’ll be angry at yourself and angrier at BA for their penny-pinching policies.
Sadly, this disconnect between what companies SAY about their customer-centricity and what they actually DO is all too common. Finance trumps CX. At some point, a BA executive decided that continuing to offer free tea on all flights was too expensive. But wait – to show how focused BA is on customer experience, they would offer free hot water and cups on flights where customers would otherwise pay for tea.
What was the motivation behind this decision? I can’t say for certain, but reducing costs seems most likely. There was a cost associated with the tea bag/cup combo they were giving passengers for free. With the new policy, they’ll serve less tea and actually get paid for the tea they do serve. A winner all around, if you spend most of your time working on spreadsheets.
It’s also possible that the objective was one small part of a program of product sabotage, i.e., deliberately making economy class a little more annoying in the hope that a few flyers will upgrade their ticket. Add enough friction in the form of later boarding, inadequate bin space, various fees, and eventually some flyers will reject economy in favor of a less effortful flying experience. (Or, perhaps, some will reject BA.)
The airlines are one of the few industries where this kind of sabotage is endemic. The base product has gotten worse, not better, over time. Imagine if Apple said, “We’ve introduced a lower-cost iPhone. The touch screen is wonky and it drops calls a lot, but it’s really inexpensive. We have to compete with the cheapest phones on the market, after all!” Crazy thinking, unless you run an airline.
BA’s apparent lack of emphasis on improving customer experience may be one reason why AirHelp’s 2019 global passenger experience rankings place BA at #23, just behind Wizz Air, a Hungarian discount airline.
A Simple Formula
To increase customer loyalty and to build your brand, don’t emulate British Airways and add complexity to what is already a high-friction customer experience. Make things easy. Simplify. Don’t give your customers one more thing to think about when they use your product or service.
Have Some Fun
It’s been years since I’ve flown BA, even though they offer the only direct flights from Austin to Heathrow. But if I ever end up on one of the no-tea-for-you flights, prior to departure I’m going to buy a jumbo box of tea bags. Once airborne, I’ll pass it around the cabin. For the price of one cup of BA tea, I’ll give free tea to everyone who wants it.
If you are a regular BA flyer, let me know if you try that. You’ll be a hero to your fellow flyers. At the same time, you’ll expose the penny-pinching thinking of the airline’s management. (But, please be nice to the cabin crew – they aren’t the ones who took your tea bags away!)