“So many brands have done such an incredible job with data and technology to drive personalisation and relevance, that it is very much becoming a hygiene factor from the way customers interact with brands,” said Jo Boswell, head of customer value management, at British Airways.

And it is this “hygiene factor” which spurred the airline into developing a personalisation programme called ‘Know Me’, five years ago.

“We wanted to drive better value for customers out of the wealth of data assets sat within the airline’s IT infrastructure,” said Boswell, speaking at the DMA’s Customer Engagement event in London this week.

While she said personalisation is very much at the heart of BA’s business strategy and service vision, the airline had not been able to easily link up customer information, unless they were members of its frequent flyer loyalty scheme or registered on BA.com

The airline has 13 million customers which fly 44 million journeys every year, interacting with 40,000 colleagues at multiple touchpoints around the world. Then add 280 aircraft flying to 170 destinations in 70 countries and you get around 400 million customer interactions per year.

“It’s an extremely complex operating environment,” she said. “How were we going to attempt to deliver this vision of a truly consistent and personalised service that goes right across the customer journey?”

She added: “This was much more than a transformation about data and technology. In effect we really needed to reprogramme the way we think about designing those customer interactions.”

BA began by aligning the internal back-office way of thinking. “We’ve got lots of people in different channels designing those interactions in isolation of each other, so it was no great surprise that as a customer you receive that information in different places and it doesn’t feel joined up or relevant.”

Boswell explained that BA managed to turn a “slightly staccato dialogue into an ongoing conversation” which all began with creating a single customer view which was the “fundamental first piece of the jigsaw”.

A few years after its investment into creating a single customer view, Boswell says the business can now uniquely ID every single customer who flies with British Airways – almost 110 million customers to date. And BA has sufficient information on those customers to be able to personalise the experience for nearly 55 million.

“For an airline business built on legacy systems going back some 40 years, this has really been quite revolutionary for us,” explained Boswell.

This unified view enabled staff across the BA business to engage with customers in a more personalised way – even down to writing a ‘welcome back’ note on a napkin to a regular customer as they ordered their in-flight beverage.

“We’ve found has the potential to generate a really incredible memorable moment for the customer.”

It also uses this data to improve email marketing and provide insights to contact centre staff. BA also has enough information about customers to be able to provide different communications about a trip after it has been book.

“In the past, we had very little ability to tailor the approach in these communications,” she said. “Different customers have different needs – a frequent business traveller zipping through terminal five once a week, who is impatient with people slowing him down, would have little need for additional information. But a family, which is often at the infrequent end of our customer base has a lot of questions that need answers.”

Boswell said BA used information gathered from surveys and complaints to learn family customers often need reassurance regarding what happens to their pushchairs when they board a plane.

“And we found out there are as many buggy policies as airports around the world,” said Bowell.

She said gathering this information for family customers was a “herculean task” but it was necessary to provide a much more relevant communication and to address the need for reassurance before the customer even has to ask.