In today’s challenging environment and powerful social media technology, no news or glitch goes unnoticed. Companies and organizations are constantly on their toes in trying to promote a positive image in the minds of the consumers, and trying to promote themselves. In recent competitive times, consumers don’t need businesses, businesses need consumers. The consumer has become the center of businesses and is now equipped with tools that are opinion makers for other customers as well.
People use online social media tools, like; Twitter, Facebook or Online review websites to comment on the services they have received and provide feedback. One of the industries that suffer the most from this is the airline industry. Passengers are very sensitive consumers who are highly critical of the services they are being offered and constantly compare it with the price that they have paid to use the airline service, which is usually quite high.
We believe that airlines should have a well thought out strategic plan on how to provide customers with satisfaction and know what they want. What is a customer looking for when he’s traveling between destinations, in the air for hours and off his regular clock? A customer is in search of comfort! A customer must feel relaxed and cozy on his flight, so when he/she land to their destination, they are well rested and can appreciate the service of the airline.
Now how do we achieve that comfort? The goal is to make sure that the ambiance of the airplane is soothing, with no rattling noise, great food and flight attendants who are polite and attentive etc. A staff that is polite and well trained can be the edge an airline company can have over other competitions.
There are multiple examples in the airline industry where airlines have increased their revenues because of providing exceptional customer service and enjoying great revenues. One clear example could be of Etihad airlines, which got it ball rolling in a completely different league by celebrating its busiest day on 5th January 2013, 33,802 passengers flew with the airline breaking through their previous record of 33,766 set on Saturday 14 July 2012.
A very happy customer gave a review saying “Flew to Bangkok and back via Abu Dhabi from Manchester economy class, no problems whatsoever. Food top draw and plenty of it well thought out dinning routines on flight through the night Bangkok-Manchester. Inflight entertainment top class particularly music section. Both legs of 6.5 hr. flight stress less with ample leg room”
When training their staff for high quality customer services, airlines must concentrate on teaching effective communication skills. They should be able to hear patiently, understand the problems and try to cater to their needs efficiently. Despite the fact that many airlines have seen such success they are sometimes criticized by disappointed customers who feel the staff was cold in their mannerism, and sometimes they complain about lack of communication post services. For e.g., if there is a cancelled flight, delayed flight or baggage issues.
It is in definitely these moments when customers are won or lost; all on the basis of how the staff responds’ to their concerns and are willing to provide a quick and easy solution. Customers are more analytic and educated about the service of an airline, when they have moments of contact and need solutions to their queries and problems. Customers often complain about poor post sale services that they received from airlines, that make them lose their faith in dependability on the airline.
A review from a disgruntled passenger flying Emirates said: “Outwardly very efficient, but not the airline I started flying years ago. The food I was served on my latest flight was disgusting. In my view the A380 is too big not enough toilets, the 777 is a more friendly plane. I have to fly Emirates because of its connection network to Europe etc as opposed to other airlines. However if I had a choice I wouldn’t fly them again. Too many screaming kids. I lost my documents at the self-check in at Dubai and got no help from the Emirates supervisor. Another passenger found them but no one from Emirates would accept them or try to find me in the airport.”
Despite Emirates being rated as one of the top airlines in the world, there are still many customers who are not satisfied by their service, as seen above, and end up criticizing the airline, for poor services. If we look deeper into this, there are two issues that can be highlighted. First, is the promise of great performance and then to actually end up under delivering. Not just airlines, but many businesses in their marketing efforts magnify the service of their business but are not able to deliver them. This creates a lag between the consumer’s perception and what he actually gets, diminishing his level of satisfaction.
The second problem arises from lack of sustainability of providing good services and not being able to standardize. So if a customer has had a good experience once and choses to fly the same airline again, might not be fully satisfied the next time and chooses to change airline preference. Hence Airlines must ensure that their quality of providing service is in the upward graph and not varying every time. For example, another customer flying emirates was very satisfied and said appreciating that:
“Flight left on time. Service was excellent and the crew appeared friendly and helpful. The person next to me pressed the call button several times and each time was responded to quickly. When the meals were being served I was initially told that there was only the fish meal left however when I said that I did not like fish the attendant asked someone to go and look for a chicken meal which was found. Without me saying anything the attendant also asked the person in front to try and get their child to sit quietly (the child seemed to be having a great time jumping around their seat) as my tray was bouncing around. The inflight entertainment system was also great with a really excellent selection of movies and TV shows.”
Once an airline establishes in providing sustainable quality service, it needs to innovate strategies to create an edge and have a competitive advantage grasping everyone’s attention, especially through innovation and creativity. Innovation can be seen under multiple lights, one of them being technology, which has created convenience for all travelers, who can now check mail, print tickets, or even check into flights all through a click of their phone. Technology however, along with all great things, usually comes with a cost. A great amount of people may be tech- savvy but many are still struggling for better comfort. Hence providing customer service through technology can be a success if the interface is easy and applies to consumers on all levels.
For example, another customer flying by Etihad Airways reported that “This morning at AUH airport: HUGE lines at check-in in the premium terminal. Luckily I had checked in online and requested an ‘e-boarding pass’. Worked perfectly, it was in my inbox 10 seconds later. And the e-boarding pass said in clear language: ‘PLEASE DO NOT PRINT e-boarding pass’. At least I thought I was lucky. But when I queued for passport control, I was pulled out by an EY lady who told me that ‘unfortunately e-boarding passes are not accepted at AUH airport.’ Don’t ask me why this check-in option is offered in the first place …”
This clearly shows that even leading airlines still need to improve on their services that are pre and post sales, in order to have more customers coming back to them and trusting in their service.Â If these loop holes can be met, then they will have no trouble satisfying sensitive customers.
Talking of the second bit of innovation; creativity, it is very important to be different so you can leave a mark and an impression on the mind of the consumers. Shashank Nigam who is the CEO of SimpliFlying and a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought-leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy, mentioned some important lessons that he learnt at a workshop in Singapore by Ron Kaufman one of the best-known customer service coaches in that region. Mr. Nigam high lights the importance of two critical steps that airlines must take in order to cut through the competition.
Shashank mentions that it is very important for the expectations of the customers be met, and then to be exceeded. He quotes the example of a rapping flight attendant from Southwest Airlines; who read out preflight safety instructions in a unique way, by rapping them out, just to give the customers a refreshing experience. Not only did he get appreciated and noticed, the word spread like fire and he ending up making in to The Oprah show.
Shashank goes on to talk about how companies must try to convince the client of high quality service even before he pays for it. How can this be done? You must engage with a customer in a polite way and offer them information and time, without expecting them purchase the service. This creates a confidence between the customer and the company, which can then result in a sales turnout. For example if a ticketing agent is patient with the customer and gives him the time he wants without expecting him to purchase the ticket, the customer might just purchase it. He goes on to add that
“If the agent is courteous and patient, it’s much more likely that the customer will end up buying the ticket.”
It is these little gestures and innovations that are the difference between good and great service, Airlines that have made their place in the industry or are struggling to can implement these tools and strategies to improve their service delivery and tap into higher potentials. They must also train and fully equip their front line teams to be problem solvers and efficient with dealing with customer queries and complains.
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