Will iPads lead to better customer service?

British Airways “revolutionises customer service using iPads,” says a BA press release on August 17 about a service trial that got quite a bit of attention this week.


The airline says it’s trialling iPads with 100 cabin crew to enable them to improve the service they give to passengers by, for instance, quickly identifying where they are seated, who they are travelling with, their Executive Club (frequent flyer programme) status and any special meal requests.

[…] It gives cabin crew a whole library of information at their fingertips including timetables, safety manuals and customer service updates. It also means any issues can be logged with ground-based colleagues around the network prior to departure so solutions can be delivered while the flight is airborne.

[…] Bill Francis, British Airways’ head of inflight customer experience, said: “The iPad is already allowing us to offer a more personalised onboard service, but the possibilities for future development are endless. We’re receiving great feedback from cabin crew and customers already.  It allows the crew to offer the thoughtful service they want to deliver and customers are treated as valued guests.”

BA says it plans to roll out iPads to all senior cabin crew across the airline in the coming months.

It’s the latest news about airlines and iPads. Earlier this week, news came that Delta Airlines in the US is trialling iPads with 22 pilots to provide them with digital content to replace the reams of paper manuals and maps they have to use. In June, Alaska Airlines said it was testing iPads with some of its pilots.

Will a tool like this actually “revolutionize” customer service as BA says, I wonder, as opposed to allowing its pilots to fly better or reducing aircraft weight by getting rids of loads of paper. Reading how BA explains it, I’d like to think it definitely would:

[…] When all the passengers have boarded and just before the doors are shut, cabin crew are currently handed a long scroll of paper, listing up to 337 customers. With the new iPads cabin crew will simply refresh their screen when the doors have closed through wireless 3G networks and they will have a complete list of passengers on board.

If that means that, one day, I can expect genuine personal attention from someone who will know a lot about my wishes and preferences, than I’d happily agree with BA’s superlative.

googleplus-sm“Revolutionize” is an interesting thought, though, that some others have as well judging from the comments to my Google+ post about this.

Armin Grewe expressed some major scepticism:

Revolutionizing customer service”? Sheesh, all it really does is replacing paper by a fancy tool. That’s not exactly “revolutionizing” in my books. Yes, it might improve it a bit and make a few things a bit easier/quicker/nicer, but as long as that’s all I don’t really see it changing that much. It’s just PR language, meaningless blurb. Same as everything for Steve Jobs is “magical”. Or “amazing”.

Jay Gilmore, doesn’t think tools nor rules make better customer service:

[…] What they are doing in this case is creating a way to automate and improve the customer experience through better personalization. Attitude and employee culture will dictate whether or not the service is any better regardless of the system.

Bernie Goldbach was practical:

Those iPads won’t help planes take off on time.

Paul Fabretti:

So revolutionised might sound sensational, but if the objective is to provide a better service, then why couldn’t the availability of more information truly revolutionise what BA do? Staff can be updated more readily with issues around baggage, weather, connections, delays, customers could log concerns or problems AHEAD of the flights and problems be resolved by the time they land.

(I agree, Paul, but I think what you’ve outlined is definitely aspirational rather than something that will happen as a result of this current trial.)

Alan Redman says that tools alone won’t improve customer service:

[…] it’s saying “our decision to help streamline information using iPads gives us the potential for better customer service.” The streamlining will create less confusion, thus simplifying the jobs of the flight attendants allowing them to focus more on the passenger. Basically, if someone is good at their job, better tools will make for better service, if someone is bad at their job or just doesn’t care, nothing is going to change that.

Great points of view, thanks to all who contributed. (Do you have a view? Add it here or at Google+.)

The question remains: Will iPads lead to better customer service? British Airways and many others are trying to figure that one out.

[Later] When I was writing this post, I wanted to include a photo of a BA cabin crew member greeting a customer or some such activity. So I started with a simple Google search for “british airways cabin crew.” I qualified the search by selecting sites with images.

Lots of results with some great photos. But most were related to media reports and other online content about BA cabin crew strikes earlier this year and last. Totally not the context I wanted when I provided attribution for a photo and link to the place it was published.

Part of the PR landscape, I suppose, but a nightmare to manage, don’t you think? Indeed, can you actually manage such a negative and reputation-damaging landscape?

(I also posted this question on Google+.)

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Dave Thackeray

    While I’m certainly not the go-to guy for people who want informed commentary on anything in particular, that may be a perk in this case: I don’t imagine for one second that BA would ‘replace’ paper with anything electronic. I imagine it would be an additional burden for the plane to carry.

    I love the idea that they’re actively promoting the use of a device that offers an easy-to-active wifi feature in the hands of technophobes (and let’s be honest, most of the BA cabin crews we fly with aren’t exactly Bill Gates) while castigating anyone with a mobile phone with the threat of an impending crash should they accidentally turn one on mid-flight.

    And finally, I imagine there’s some sinister underlying motive for bringing Apple iPads on board. I don’t know what it is, but there probably is one.

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