British Airways (BA) is one of the most well-known and well-respected airline carriers in the world, flying to over 200 destinations globally (Nicolini & Salini, 2006). As a major player on the global scale, BA also recognizes the need to ensure that the cultural needs of all its customers are being met. Culture, within the context of this research, is defined as shared characteristics of a group or community that influences their lives and includes facets such as religion, nationality, race, language and cuisines (Arif et al., 2013). In this sense, BA must attempt to create an atmosphere across their services that incorporates an understanding of all these elements, whilst ensuring that journeys are kept as comfortable as possible for all passengers. This research aims to explore the relationship that BA has with the cultures of its customers, particularly those from African and Asian countries, to assess the measures that they are taking in order to promote a culturally aware corporate culture.
Airlines such as BA have played a major role in the increasing numbers of people that seek to travel for both business and pleasure. As our world becomes smaller, the number of interactions between distinct cultures increases and therefore so does the need for companies to provide services that meet diverse cultural needs (Kotter, 2008). A successful company must, and should, show understanding of cultural differences and traditions and it is this that leads to economic success (Bigelow, 2012). Dealing with diversity is also not necessarily a very difficult task – some research is required into learning the market, but providing services that meet cultural needs is commonly not complex (Montalvo & Reynal-Querol, 2005). What is perhaps more complex is meeting the diverse cultural needs of customers sharing the same journey, particularly if there are conflicts (De Mooij, 2013). One example of this is the recent incident in which two male Ultra-Orthodox Jewish passengers were unable to take their assigned seats on board a flight because of their religious rules on gender relations (Blumberg, 2014).
The purpose of focusing on Asia and Africa for this research is that these are two of the most rapidly developing geographical areas and also some of the most culturally complex and diverse (Baum, 2007). Using religion as an example, African customers may be either Muslim or Christian or follow any number of smaller faiths (Baum, 2007). Asian customers may also practice a number of religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Christianity or Shinto, for example (Smith, 2009). These religions all have a variety of different customs and requirements based on gender relations, food laws, religious observances and holidays (Gaytri et al., 2011). BA attempt to improve their services by creating a company culture that takes into account these differences. This is beneficial both to the customer, as their needs are being met, but also to further economic success for the company (Niebuhr, 2010). In this sense, an understanding of cultural differences is necessary for the company to survive in the modern world and to further their existing 100 year success story (Andrevski et al., 2014).
As previously mentioned, cultural diversity is an issue that is only going to become more prominent as the world gets smaller, and airlines such as BA are major players in the creation of interactions between cultures (Jameson, 2007). It is also important for BA as a business to understand the needs of the customer (Ottaviano & Peri, 2006). Some research has already been undertaken on the subject and has shown that the most economically successful businesses are those that have cultural training available to employees and attempt to meet the needs of a wide range of customers (Thurlow & Aiello, 2007). Research has also shown that cultural needs are dynamic and therefore continually need to be revisited as both the consumer base and their cultural needs change (Andrevski et al., 2014). In this sense, the current research fills a gap in the literature by focusing on BA and the ways in which they attempt to improve their cultural sensitivity on their services for African and Asian customers (Hopkins et al., 2011). It is also part of an existing body of literature that is very important given the increasing rate of globalization.
The research in question will focus on exploring the ways that BA caters for cultural diversity in two distinct ways. A literature review will give an overview of the relationship between cultural diversity and customer satisfaction with a particular focus on airlines such as BA. The second part of the research will use a survey distributed to BA staff to explore the ways in which the company caters to those from African and Asian cultures. It will explore the ways in which British Airways relates to cultural diversity and the key aspects of their cultural diversity program. It will also explore how BA creates an atmosphere of customer satisfaction by attending to the cultural needs of their customers. The current service delivery procedures on the A and B routes will be examined in detail to give an overview of how the company functions in relation to cultural diversity. Finally, the survey will explore how effective the practices have been in achieving customer satisfaction in one Asian and one African country.
Using the survey methodology will yield qualitative results which are appropriate to the current research in many ways. It allows the respondents to elaborate on the practices that they feel are currently most successful and those that they feel are difficult or ineffective. Qualitative results also give the respondents more freedom and therefore the results are likely to be open and honest (Patton, 2005). Surveys are also particularly useful in that they can be distributed cheaply and effectively, giving a larger sample size from which to explore the viewpoint (Patton, 2005). Surveys are now commonly done online, which again reduces the likelihood of bias and increases the number of respondents that can comfortably involve themselves in the research (Patton, 2005). Overall, the use of surveys is most appropriate to exploring the topic of BA’s relationship to cultural diversity and the ways in which it meets the needs of its customers.
The aim of this research is to examine the service delivery procedures practised by British Airways to satisfy passengers from Asian and African countries.
To explore literature related to cultural diversity in customer satisfaction
To examine the service delivery procedures practised by British Airways on the A and B routes
To evaluate the effectiveness of the practices in achieving customer satisfaction among passengers from country A and country B.
As with any piece of research, the current piece has several limitations that should be noted. Firstly, qualitative data can be difficult to code and therefore trends may not always be immediately obvious (Patton, 2005). Additionally, it is time consuming to assess qualitative data, which limits the number of responses that can be helpfully used in a study such as this (Patton, 2005). By focusing on British Airways, the research fills a niche in the current research on the topic of cultural diversity, but there are potential benefits that come from comparing the practices of two separate airlines which is beyond the scope of this study. Additionally, it should be noted that there are potential for observer bias in studies on sensitive subjects such as culture and religion which need to be addressed and understood for objectivity (Patton, 2005).
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