i Editor's Letter: Word of mouth


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The Independent Online


Thank you to all of those who were kind about our "Newspaper of the Year" award. Faced with rivals' larger marketing budgets, we are grateful you are such passionate i advocates.

Customer advocacy is marketing's holy grail. Word of mouth is the most powerful recommendation partly because it is so difficult to fake — we can all tell when a celebrity advocacy does not ring true. At least, that was before Twitter muddied the waters.

The flipside of this word of mouth ideal is when a brand begins to be bad-mouthed by customers. It is the start of a slippery slope whose slide is not easy to halt. Right now, a national shop window is tarnishing the image of Britain. The arrivals process at any big airport is never going to be one of life's joys, but it should not be the torture it is at Heathrow.

One democratising plus of modern technology is that Twitter and phone cameras mean neither BAA nor the Border Agency can dissemble that things are not as bad as "people" say. Staff aside, the only people who know are those customers suffering inhumane delays. It is, of course, not the fault of the handful of staff on duty that you can wait three hours in such unpleasantness at the end of your tiring journey. But, what a first impression it gives visitors, what a disincentive to use Heathrow it offers to both UK business people and leisure travellers alike, and what an embarrassment, full stop.

This is not an Olympic issue. Nor is it just an issue because the border control is so many people's first impression of Britain. This is about managerial competence and professionalism, service and just getting it right. So, please can someone step in to bang together both the Home Office and Border Agency's heads and sort it out.

There can be no more excuses.