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British Airways has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons again this week, testing brand loyalty as it manages the fall out from a huge systems breach that saw the personal financial data of nearly 400,000 customers hacked. 

It’s another instance that reaffirms the perception that being a loyal BA customer is nowadays a test of fortitude. We’ve got used to operational glitches, delays and even paying for our own food onboard, or to check in luggage. Despite the grumbling, we’ve just accepted them as part and parcel of flying now.  Even last years’ IT meltdown – stranding thousands and causing weeks of disruption – has largely been forgiven, or at least forgotten.

When it comes to our personal data, we rightly feel differently. It’s more invasive, more personal. Brands get stuff wrong, but we expect them to treat today’s most precious commercial commodity – data – as if it were their own. Sure, strip away all of the things that used to make you great, we can learn to live without them. But if you’re cutting back there, don’t cut back on the stuff that really counts. In BA’s case, that means keeping the planes on time and in the air, and customer data under lock and key. 

When crises like the one BA has been managing occur, brands can – and do – make matters far worse, very quickly. Speed, responsibility and complete transparency are key to stopping the tumor of whatever the initial failing was becoming inoperable as it spreads across the whole body of the organisation.

So it was edifying to see the full-page ads BA took out within 48 hours to apologise for the breach, and the proactive communications approach it took through the media and its social channels in that intervening period. Their messages were factual and with no attempt to defer responsibility, measured, informative and frequent as it sought to reassure customers about what it is doing to manage the issue – and what steps they needed to take if they were concerned. It’s been evident that as an organisation, BA has learnt some hard lessons. They’ll need to maintain that focus in the coming weeks if they’re to restore customers’ faith. 

Sometimes, organisations bring on a crisis through their own misjudgments, on other occasions, the crisis is brought to them. However, what has happened is quickly superseded in importance – at least in the short term – by how you respond. In this case, BA’s swift action, humility and honesty – with the lingering love for the brand itself – will be enough for it to pull through.

Until the next time, that is.


^phil b
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