image of a plane and sky

Customer Experience: An Airline Struggling to Connect

NKD worked with a premium airline to harness their USP over the rise of budget competitors – excellent customer service!

As budget airlines expand their market share, it’s become more important than ever for non-budget airlines to define and deliver on their service offering.

NKD worked with a client who was in the process of defining their unique selling point – focused less on their product, and more on their brand. Excellent service was a key pillar of their brand, and we harnessed its potential as a key differentiator against their competitors.

The business drivers were clear. Our client set a target of £1.1 billion in profit by the following year. But, this would only be achievable if they could attract, and keep, customers. The numbers weren’t looking great. When we first met our client, 1 out of 3 customers were ‘not highly likely’ to recommend them to a friend or colleague.

Budget airlines are attracting customers with low costs, so what could our client offer that would provide value?

As one of their core brand pillars, service was crucial to achieving this goal. Defining what service meant in their organisation, and helping their people to live and breathe it, was key. Through this, their people would be able to provide customers with a valuable service offering at every point of their journey.

 What were the challenges?

The first thing we had to do was ensure consistency and clarity of the organisation’s brand offering. Through our Discovery work, we found that inconsistencies in service from person to person, and place to place, were common. This was how people perceived their organisation, and it created a feeling of disconnect between colleagues from different touch points.

The whole brand wasn’t fitting together for people. And what didn’t help was a lack of understanding of the customer. Different customer profiles were not being acknowledged, and a one-size-fits-all approach was the norm. For example, many didn’t understand that most customers find flying to be a stressful experience – it’s an inconvenient, but unavoidable, necessity, not a luxury. Not understanding this important reality was stopping employees from connecting with customers, and providing them with a service experience that hit the mark. Really understanding your customer is essential to providing the best service experience possible – and it helps to make sense of your brand.

What was our approach?

To help achieve this, we needed to do two things: make the brand relevant and translatable to people’s day-to-day, and engage them through a great learning experience. We developed a learning programme that was delivered not just to cabin services, but also to ground operations and sales.

Through Discovery, we found that the existing training was not exciting or engaging. It was nothing new, and just felt like the ‘same old’ thing again and again. Engagement was low.

Training had focused on processes rather than people – the priority was efficient systems rather than excellent service. Instead of developing individuals’ skills, it had focused on setting common standards and procedures.

We tackled this by helping people to connect with service on an individual level. The difference between ‘being’ service minded, and ‘doing’ service through routines and processes, was essential. An important step was to marry our client’s service ‘hallmarks’ with individuals’ own service styles. This allowed us to engage and empower our client’s people, whilst bringing the brand to life day-to-day, through their service.

Our training provided people with real skills that would help them deliver excellent service for all customers. These included effective communication, body language, emotional intelligence, relationship building and creative thinking skills for resolving service breakdowns. Employees put themselves in the customers’ shoes, and developed the skills needed to fix the person first, and then fix the problem second. By developing their individual skills, employees took on personal ownership for engaging with customers.

The learning environment was a complete contrast from the ‘same old’ stuff they’d been used to. Participants entered a coffee lounge style classroom, where facilitators were more like ‘hosts’ than teachers. This immersive experience put everything into the lens of a customer, replicating the customer experience and helping to bring home the customer perspective.

Our Discovery showed that emotional connection is key in customer service. To connect with customers, employees need to understand their perspective. But, they also need to feel connected with their brand, and understand exactly what it is that they are offering. The customer experience can only benefit from this, as value is clearly defined and delivered. Only then can customers become the brand ambassadors you need to stand out in a ruthlessly competitive market.