British Airways’ Know Me program searches the company’s frequent fliers online.
If you’re looking for Catherine O’Neil online before you meet, don’t expect to find the right one. That name comes up with about 4,590,000 results on Google and 2,260,000 options on Bing. Her name does not pop up on the first 19 pages of Google Images or for a long scroll on Bing.
She does not avoid social media. O’Neil simply has a popular name.
“You just can’t find me,” said O’Neil, a senior at Emerson College. “My name’s too common.”
As the age of the online search arises, more companies are willing to admit they search people online before they even meet. British Airways started a program earlier this year called Know Me to offer more personalized service to the company’s frequent fliers.
According to a USA TODAY article, the airline’s crew will search for its preferred customers on Google Images, so they can recognize them before the flight. In the article, Simon Talling-Smith, the executive vice president of the Americas for British Airways, said, “We put this program together so we can demonstrate to frequent customers that we do know them and can anticipate their needs and deliver the service they expect.”
British Airways compiled a database of information about its customers to use for its search.
Jayne Mattson, senior vice president of Keystone Associates, a Boston-based career consulting firm, said, “It’s more of a common practice to look someone up online, whether it’s on Google Images or LinkedIn. Unfortunately, what we’ve turned into is an open-book society. With the Internet you can’t be private anymore.”
There can be positives, though, Mattson said.
“British Airways is trying to use technology as a bridge to build a better relationship with their customers,” she said.
Luis Perez, national technology contracts supervisor at Winter, Wyman, a Northeast staffing firm, said there are better ways to provide better customer service than searching for someone online.
“I don’t see the value in it because I don’t know how accurate that would be,” Perez said. “But if it’s tied to a specific area, like your name plus ‘Facebook’ or other social media, the results might be better.
“There are companies that use it in different ways, like marketing companies, that want you to have a brand,” he said. “Especially for young folks out of school, having too much information out there can hurt you. How your friends tag you, that’s not who you are as a professional.”
While the privacy issue remains, British Airways searching for its fliers online is just another marketing ploy for the airline, Mattson said.
“If you don’t have a card with the company, you don’t get money off” of purchases, she said. “Though, they might lose people who don’t want to expose themselves this way.”
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