It was all about waiting this week as the world’s eyes turned to the Lindo Wing at St Mary’s Hospital for the arrival of the new Royal Baby.  As reporters worked solidly for more than twelve hours to fill the airspace with commentary and speculation about what was happening inside, the growing anticipation of the country was palpable.  

The thirst for information about what might be happening was such that it made me think about our need for constant updates and details on important events in our lives.  Not always the extreme of a new baby arriving, but for more everyday events that are important to us personally.  

Whilst waiting for the new Prince George of Cambridge to arrive, I happened to be at Heathrow Airport.  We’ve all been there - that sinking moment when you are waiting to board your flight and the departure board flickers into action and instead of saying ‘go to gate’ it says ‘delayed.’ 

It triggers angst, frustration and perhaps more than anything, a fierce hunger for more information so you can make alternative plans if your journey is going to be delayed for a significant amount of time or your flight is likely to be cancelled altogether.

It prompted a few observations for me about how to influence ‘the customer journey’ and also about the important role front line customer service staff perform in defending brand reputation when the best-laid plans start to unravel. 

Navigating your way through the world’s busiest passenger airport can be stressful at the best of times, when the clock has long since ticked past midnight and you still don’t know if you’re going to be flying home or stranded 500 miles from your destination without a hotel room,  then it gets even more stressful.

In today’s blame culture, it is perhaps logical, certainly tempting, to target the organisation with which you have a direct commercial relationship but it’s worth remembering that the ability of the staff in front of you to find a solution to your problem may be severely hampered by external factors. 

However, on the other hand, we also dwell in a compensation culture in which strict rules apply about compensation for delays and cancellation - no bad thing in principle, but there is a risk that it might encourage delays in providing information until a situation is 100% clear cut, lest it open the compensation floodgates prematurely.

In all industry sectors there can be circumstances outwith an organisation’s direct control from extreme weather, to industrial action or supply chain problems. Airlines are arguably more exposed to problems outwith their control than most businesses from air flight control decisions to security issues, baggage handlers or problems with connecting flights from other carriers.

It is the way in which customer service teams respond to these challenges that distinguishes the leaders from the laggards. In our case, despite a paucity of information and the stress of placating frustrated travellers for many hours, the crew in British Airways’ departure lounge were unfailingly polite and treated everyone so well that they received a spontaneous round of applause when we finally departed. 

Their response didn’t change the situation but it made it more bearable and upheld the brand’s reputation at a ‘moment of truth’ in a customer experience. That is the kind of difference that has every chance of having a positive influence on your Net Promoter Score, your Customer Satisfaction Survey and just plain old repeat sales.

However, getting the human side of the service equation right is only part of the battle - greater investment in real-time information flows is needed in order to give well-trained staff the tools they need to deliver the service their customers expect and deserve.