image of a plane

Leadership: Qantas The Spirit of Australia

In a world where everything can be copied, what makes a brand experience really stand out? Their people. Read Michael’s story of exceptional leadership.

Qantas: The Spirit of Australia embodying the Spirit of NKD Leadership.

Those who know me, know I’m an aviation geek… actually there are a few of us here at NKD. I spent seven amazing years with Virgin Atlantic in my 20’s, and for two of those I was in the skies as Cabin Crew. As a boy, I was aware of the reputation of a few airlines, ones that exuded glamour and elegance, and those were the ones that I longed to fly with. One in particular has always stood out to me, Australia’s most famous airline, Qantas.

Back in 2016, Australia became an important place for us at NKD – we had the opportunity to work with Woolworths Group Supply Chain, and as it happened, I also ended up marrying an Australian. My connection with Australia, and specifically its airline, seemed to get even stronger when last month the travel itinerary I could only have dreamed of hit my inbox; I was booked on the QF002 from London to Singapore.

Fast forward, I’m settling into my Qantas Business Class seat, I’m 12 again – I’m gleefully excited to be flying with an airline I’ve always admire but I couldn’t help but think, ‘I’m sat in a standard business class seat, nothing I haven’t seen before…’

Slightly deflated, I wondered when the Qantas magic would hit me and asked myself, what it is about this particular airline that means people chose to fly Qantas over some of the Middle Eastern carriers? After all, I’d paid about 30% more and if I’m honest… I’d seen better seats!

But then, with a swish of elegance, Nicky, the Customer Service Manager pulled back the curtain and I was suddenly pulled into the fast lane, or runway, towards long term loyalty.

She circled the Cabin, holding personal conversation with all 64 passengers in Business Class. I would bet you a multi-pack of Tim Tams that all 64 of those passengers were already thinking of booking their next Qantas flight thanks to her customer service – I certainly was!

To cut to the chase, Nicky exemplified the glamour and poise that I had imagined Qantas to be about. She also held all of the qualities that we at NKD believe are at the core of great leadership.

But what was so great?

1. She was ENGAGING – you could tell Nicky wanted to be there. She took a genuine interest in everyone and connected with us all by making eye contact; her cheeks must have ached from how much she was smiling. But she didn’t just interact in this way with customers, she did it with every Cabin Crew member as well.

Each person on board got some of Nicky’s focus.

My take away was this – Nicky was focused on making her customers and team feel ‘seen’ and important.

2. She was AUTHENTIC – Ever walked into an American department store and got the same ‘Hey, how’s it going’? Sure, it’s nice… but it doesn’t feel genuine.

Nicky’s tone and conversation were sincere. She didn’t speak much, but when she did it answered the customers question perfectly, with no unnecessary ‘small talk’. Instead, she used fewer, well thought out words.

Being married to an Australian I feel that authenticity is at the heart of Australian culture. Nicky’s authenticity not only created real connection for customers and fellow Cabin Crew but inherently represented the Qantas brand – Spirit of Australia.

My take away was this – her authenticity fostered trust between Nicky, her team and customers, and as a result…the Qantas brand.

3. She was UNCOMPROMISING – Nicky was completely uncompromising; each time a customer asked for something she made sure it was there, when she promised something, she kept her promises.

At times when she couldn’t deliver, she was honest about what she could do and always explained the why.

This was the same with her team. At times she could be heard making her expectations clear, in mature yet conversational style, giving praise and guidance as and when needed.

The result; an entire Cabin of engaged brand ambassadors walking the aisle. Every crew member delivered quality service.

My take away was this – don’t over promise, say what you can do and keep your promises.

The atmosphere in the Cabin that day, created by Nicky’s leadership, and her team, is what made my childhood perception of the Spirit of Australia come true.

At 6ft, I didn’t have the best night’s sleep in my Qantas ‘fully flatbed’, however, because of how Qantas made me feel, this airline will continue to be my number one choice.

We now find ourselves in a world where everything can be copied, be it a car, fashion, or even a service offering – nothing is sacred – we must constantly find and define our differentiation, and more and more businesses are realising it’s their people. It’s Nicky. It’s Roland in Starbucks, it’s Milly at my hairdressers.

The people make the difference. The offering isn’t unique – it’s a flight, it’s a coffee, it’s a haircut – but the people keep me coming back, keep me loyal.

The power of inspiring leadership and engaging employees is what will set you apart from the sea of grey out there in the marketplace.

I want to thank Nicky and team, and thank Qantas for keeping your promise of delivering service excellence.

I can’t wait for my next Qantas flight.