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BA’s latest Head of Customer Experience resigns – after a year

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If you thought that being, say, leader of the Conservative Party or Manchester United manager was bad for job security, it is nothing compared to being the British Airways ‘Head of Customer Experience’.

This is a role which has defeated many people.

The first person to hold the title was, I think, Frank van der Post. Frank joined from Jumeirah Hotels, the Dubai-based hotel group with a strong reputation for customer service. Despite being well liked in the frequent flyer community, Frank left in 2014 after four years, allegedly frustrated with not being given the money he wanted for investment.

Arguably it has been downhill since Frank left.

Tom Stevens British Airways

Frank was replaced by Troy Warfield. Warfield only lasted 18 months. His appointment raised eyebrows at the time because he had no airline experience, having previously worked at Avis and Kimberley-Clark, where he oversaw Andrex in Europe.

Warfield was replaced in 2017 by Carolina Martinoli who had done a similar role at Iberia. She was later promoted to the IAG board as Chief People Officer.

Tom Stevens, previously head of airport operations for BA, picked up the customer experience mandate on an interim basis during the pandemic. He was confirmed in the role in early 2021.

After a year, Stevens also appears to have been beaten by the job. Is there anyone out there who can take on the challenge of improving the British Airways customer experience without spending any money?

BA told us in a statement:

After a successful tenure as our Director of Brand and Customer Experience, Tom Stevens has informed [us] that he has taken the difficult decision to leave the company to pursue his ambition to work overseas. Tom joined us as a graduate just over 10 years ago and his talent was obvious from the start. His drive, energy and commitment to BA saw him rise through the ranks, holding roles in Procurement, IAG and Aer Lingus before moving to become Head of Customer for us at Heathrow and subsequently Head of Worldwide Airports. Tom is an incredible customer champion and has ensured continuous improvement during his time with us as a Director, bringing innovative thinking to everything he takes on.

Stevens is being replaced by Calum Laming, who was only promoted to Director of Business Recovery in February. Laming was previously Chief Customer Officer at Vueling, IAG’s low cost carrier. Vueling, when Alex Cruz was CEO, had a poor record for customer satisfaction although there have been some improvements since.

Laming does at least understand the coal face, having once worked as cabin crew for Go (a low cost carrier). That said, there were good external candidates available such as Daniel Kerzner, who did the role at Virgin Atlantic pre-covid and previously for Starwood Hotels.

Good luck Calum!


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Comments (69)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • BJ says:

    At least the BA Heads and United Managers have the integrity to resign…

  • Steve says:

    Seems like a pointless job. Do a little over year, CV check. No money, nothing to do really. Go somewhere else.

  • Patrick says:

    Laming was responsible for developing the concepts for The Residence, First Apartments and Business Studio during his time at Etihad so this appointment potentially bodes well.

    • BJ says:

      Only if BA provides the investmenf and that’s the problem it seems.

      • Charles Martel says:

        Surely part of being in a leadership position is convincing your peers and masters your plans are worth investing in?

        • SH says:

          Demonstrably The Residence was not worth investing in as they are being ripped out…

  • JDB says:

    BA has also just appointed a new head of IT Dirk John, ex McKinsey, Latam and Lufthansa and they are splitting the role of COO with a joint hire who will be responsible for day to day operations to be announced shortly. The incumbent, Jason Mahoney, is becoming chief technical officer.

  • AJA says:

    Good luck to Calum Laming. I hope he has a decent budget and has influence on how that money is spent.

    I’d prioritise improving the lounges by getting some decent magazines and newspapers back and improving the food offering both in lounges and on-board.

    I suspect however it will be a case of emulating the great BBC series W1A with the wonderful Anna Rampton as Head of Better who said: ‘The fact is, this is about establishing what we do most of best and finding fewer ways of doing more of it less.’

    “If ever there was an opportunity for BA to stand tall and make a big, bold statement about how much it values the idea of valuing values, then surely this is it.” (to quote Ian Fletcher)

    Let’s hope we don’t get a repeat of David Tennant saying “If it hasn’t exactly been a good day for producer Lucy Freeman, for Ian it’s been worse than good and it’s about to get worse than bad.”

    Meanwhile they need to sort out the scheduling and stop the last minute cancellations and consolidating 5 flights into one departing at silly o’clock in the morning.

    • jeff77 says:

      “Meanwhile they need to sort out the scheduling and stop the last minute cancellations and consolidating 5 flights into one departing at silly o’clock in the morning.”

      Won’t happen any time soon, unless they manager to find 6000 staff overnight

      • AJA says:

        Well obviously, but in the meantime perhaps BA might consider reducing the flight schedule and instead sell tickets for flights they will realistically fly.

        I think from a customer perspective we would prefer to know up front that there will only be two flights a day and plan accordingly rather than give us the option of choosing a midafternoon or early evening flight which are both cancelled 10 days before and then try to blame those cancellations on the extraordinary circumstance of Covid thereby wriggling out of UK261 liabilities.

        • john says:

          Perhaps the plan is sell more flights than you can fly then cancel those that will generate the least profit based on loadings closer to departure. That way it’s less of a guessing game over what to ditch.

          I guess there is also the covid uncertainty that perhaps they are forced to reduce flights to some destinations because of that (e.g. Shanghai lockdown) but introducing flights late in the day on some routes won’t be cost effective.

          • Dubious says:

            There could be some truth in that but perhaps more about knowing passenger demand than the £.
            Have a look at page 17 in the report on this site: https://asi.sutd.edu.sg/white-papers/asi-white-paper-slots/

            It gives a good summary of some of key operational challenges airlines faced albeit during the height of COVID-19.

            There are also other factors like keeping an eye on the rest of the schedule to ensure they keep their slot rights in fact.

          • AJA says:

            “Perhaps the plan is sell more flights than you can fly then cancel those that will generate the least profit based on loadings closer to departure. That way it’s less of a guessing game over what to ditch.”

            Undoubtedly BA do that – it gets customers buying tickets for a flight that they want to take at a time that suits them. If they just removed the flight from sale chances are we would investigate the flight schedule of the competition and if they have a flight at a time that suits and BA doesn’t then the competition gets the cash.

            As it is BA gets the cash from the customer then close to the date arbitrarily cancels it and suggests a flight at silly o’clock in the morning or a refund. Then they try and wriggle out of any compensation by blaming Covid rather than admitting it is a commercial decision to consolidate flights.

            The thing is doing this on a long term basis is damaging to the brand and definitely doesn’t bode well for customer experience scores. But given the replies by Rob saying that Calum won’t be given the cash it really is a case of doing an Anna Rampton and finding ways of doing less more. Not good at all. Depressing in fact.

    • BJ says:

      It’s 2022, paper magazines and newspapers shouldn’t be a thing any more. They can sort out the lounges simply by reducing right to use them, and divert the cash from savings on volume of food and bev to quality. Agree they need to get cancellations sorted fast. The phone lines also.

      • Rob says:

        You think BA actually pays for the magazines in the lounges? Business Traveller is, so I was told, the only one they ever paid for. The rest are free or the publishers pay BA. It’s a profit centre not a cost centre.

        • BJ says:

          No, I didn’t. My point was that in this day and age with so many electronic devices around there is little need for mass circulation daily and weekly paper. I know there is a certain joy to the paper editions but we be to get away from them.

      • RussellH says:

        One of the few bits of flying that I actually enjoyed (have not been on a plane since June 2019) was the ability to pick up a load of newspapers just before boarding.
        I do not want to have to rely on electricity for something to read!

        Flying on LH I could usually rely on getting an FT International and a Süddeutsche Zeitung as well as a couple of reasonably intelligent UK papers.

  • Nick says:

    A little bit unfair. I know Tom, he’s wanted to work overseas for a long time, and held out in the hope BA would post him -but they do that so rarely nowadays he’s realised it’s not going to happen. Obviously the job is part of the equation, but at the end of the day he’s done the classic ‘post-covid self evaluation’ and put his life goals first. The world would be a happier place if more people did that.

    Just hope the new guy brings less of VY than their previous major export did.

    • Rhys says:

      But that’s the problem, right? If BA had the budget to spend on CX then maybe Tom would’ve stuck around because it would’ve been fun and he had something exciting to do.

      • Callum says:

        No… If you truly want to live abroad, being given “something fun to do” doesn’t stop you from wanting to live abroad.

        I can’t even imagine what I’d need to be offered to live in the UK again (other that the obvious “here’s a billion pounds” etc!).

        • Rob says:

          Probably free medical care in your old age plus a pension which is still increased by RPI instead of being frozen …

          • Callum says:

            No. I must say that seems like a very ignorant view of the world you have there, the UK isn’t unique in providing free healthcare and decent(ish) pensions…

          • Rob says:

            I meant your UK pension you are due would stop increasing if you were outside the UK.

  • Alex says:

    Customer service at pre & post flight is woeful and doesn’t necessarily reflect the service in the air. But it does major damage to the brand.

    A few years I contacted them as i was concerned that BA prints boarding passes without a space between first name & surname. The name on the pass therefore did not ‘exactly match the name on the passport’.

    To most people this might not sound a problem but whilst I love travel I’m a nervous flyer. As long as I’ve planned properly I’ll be fine but this kept bothering me. I phoned the customer service centre, all they kept telling me was ‘If the name on the boarding pass doesn’t exactly match the name on the passport you’ll need to pay to get it changed’.

    I wrote to the various senior figures in BA never receiving a response of anyone. It was only by websites such as this that I got that answer that BA boarding cards look like that and not to worry.

    I continued to write to BA afterwards to see if I’d ever get a response. After 10 letters I gave up.

    The point of this post… doing the big stuff is great but these people rarely want to deal with the small stuff that damage the brand.

    How many of us have had a negative view of an airline because of something small but the 4 hour delay didn’t really bother us.

    Ultimately BA doesn’t know what it is. It’s trying to have the class of Emirates with the quirkiness of Virgin but pleasing the easyJet market.

    • Andrew. says:

      There are no prefix or suffix spaces to either your first name or surname in your passport either. It’s tabulated text.

      The boarding cards, are also just tabulated text. I’m not entirely sure why anyone would waste so much of their own time or a business’s time complaining about a redundant character in tabulation. But then many years ago I had a 6 month complaint about the use of a dash rather than a hyphen in the presentation of an individuals name on a credit card. The only thing that resolved it was when I organised a day trip to the card embossing area of the bank and evidenced that there was only 26 letters, 10 numbers a dash and a “V” or “MC” symbol on the imprinter daisy wheels.

    • Economist Nearby says:

      Durr-head

    • john says:

      I can report that it is fixed however. My boarding pass from last week has.. “SURNAME / FIRSTNAME PREFIX”

      Although I guess the issue you would have now is that your passport doesn’t have a / in your name 🙂

  • John T says:

    The thing is BA don’t really need to be the best. They operate more flights to and from one of the most popular business and tourist destination cities in the world than any other airline.
    Thats why people fly them not because they have an amazing customer experience.
    If I was an IAG shareholder I don’t think I would support spending more of this either.

    • AJA says:

      You forgot to add – in the UK.

      I think Turkish Airlines would like a word re the same claim from Istanbul and American Airlines might claim the same re New York while Emirates might claim the same re Dubai.

      But I agree let’s hope BA concentrates on only being competent for now. Why aim for the skies when you can’t even get there? 😉

    • Rob says:

      That’s why you’re not running a big business. When you stand still you become complacent and fat, and others overtake you. One day you wake up and you don’t have a business left, because you’ve managed to alienate every customer group.

      • dougzz99 says:

        How far on the rear view mirror are BA right now.

      • Chrisasaurus says:

        Well, not really true when the barrier to entry into a market is insane.

        Who is able to compete with BAs position, in particular its massive share of slots at airports?

    • Doc says:

      This is one of the reasons they so oppose the additional runway at LHR- perfect competition would kill them.

    • Economist Nearby says:

      If you were an IAG shareholder your shares would have fallen in value from a high of 480p to 121p today, so you might think investment in its website, app and customer experience, so that customers can and want to book flights, is quite important.

      • Colin MacKinnon says:

        Actually, have they not fallen further – was the 480p not a pre-rights issue price?

        So your share of the company (and future profits) on a 121p share is less than your share of the company (and profits) was at 480p!

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