Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Qantas customer service centre tour - the BOOT is feeling hopeful

Back in February Qantas announced the launch of a new Customer Service Excellence centre.

This tripped my interest because I have long commented on the need for customer service improvements at Qantas. I have described the current culture as a "process culture" meaning that the staff looked to follow the processes set for them and get you through the flight rather than focused on making the flight the best it can be. I do this as both a blogger and top tier (platinum) flier with Qantas.

To Qantas' credit they agreed to talk to me more about the Customer Service Centre, to answer some questions I had on it and offer me a tour.

I serve a lot of criticism Qantas' way but in the case of this centre I was very impressed. You could see where the money was spent. They have invested in creating a physical location for each of the main cabin experiences (first, business, premium economy, international economy, domestic economy, Qantas link). They have filled the space with plenty of employee morale building activities but also what appeared to be genuinely well thought out training spaces. For example in addition to having fully functioning mock aircraft cabins for service training I saw a a dedicated sommelier training section for on board wine training (there are some 2-2,500 accredited "sommeliers in the sky"). Another example was the way I say classes being set up directly in the mock on board and lounge environments. Classes made up of teams from different parts of the business looking at customer care issues.

Qantas are claiming that this centre represents a $10mm investment and will cover all elements of the business. Every single person will go through it in an aim to make the customer experience part of every element of the business.

Beyond the building they have also set up the training to be applied to all members of the company. The comms staff taking me on the tour used the phrase "end to end customer experience" to explain the aim of having every single company employee from all departments to come through the training. They are aiming to have 18,000 people through the centre this year (110 a day).

The theory behind this is that they recognise while price is a clear factor in decision making by customers it is not the only one. Qantas want this training program and supporting internal work to drive the customer service to be a decisive factor in customers' choosing to fly with Qantas. I get this approach and think it is the right focus for the Qantas brand. I have been in customer research events where initially customers talk about the importance of price. Then you confront the customer with the impact of price based decisions (distance from the beach, level of facilities, number of staff, quality of food) and customer quickly tell you that what they meant is that value is what they are looking for not just price

By nature I am a surly traveller and past experience around Qantas leaves me to be hesitant to provide too much praise but I left the tour filled with hope that the monetary investment and staff time commitment that this centre represented indicated a turning point in Qantas' approach to customer service. So Qantas...you have now raised my expectations and set me up to be interested in the product again. Please don't disappoint.

Here are some more photos of the centre

Below is an email exchange of questions and answers with Qantas during the research for this post. The answers are a bit too PR/Comms controlled for incorporation in the main part of this post but I will publish them here for you if interested.

The BOOT: What is your feeling as to the perception customers have of Qantas' level of customer service? Is this perception at the level you would like it to be?

Qantas: Our customers tell us we generally provide a high standard of customer service. However, our ambition is to be recognised as the world’s best premium airline and as an organisation that is defined by customer service excellence, so we are raising the bar.

The BOOT: Are there particular areas of customer service/care training that are a focus of this centre? Are there areas of weakness in customer care that have been identified as requiring focus?

Qantas: With regards to customer service excellence, we consider two concepts of equal importance. A consistent, brand-aligned and seamless customer experience is critical to our success and that every employee, customer facing or one or more steps removed, has a vital role to play in the customer experience.

The BOOT: What role has the Qantas Advisory Panel played in your planning for this Centre and customer service training in general?

Qantas: The Qantas Customer Advisory Panel supports our business with the ongoing refinement of our customer product and services. We work with the Panel on a regular basis to validate and test strategies and initiatives and to determine where we need to focus our efforts. Our research indicates there is an opportunity to drive consistency across the touch points and the Centre provides us with a resource to do just that.
The BOOT: Have any changes been made in the way you train staff or focus on customer service as a result of the feedback from the Qantas Advisory Panel? If so, what changes?

Qantas: The Panel tells us we need to be providing our customers with a consistently high standard of customer service at every stage of the customer journey.

Qantas has always been very customer service focussed and we train people in many ways using contemporary face-to-face methods, a variety of print collateral, digital (including eLearning) and broadcast tools. However, the Qantas Centre of Service Excellence provides us with a unique opportunity to bring all our customer service excellence training under the one roof – and, using the state-of-the-art brand experience space, along with techniques that immerse our people in the different product offerings and service expectations, people are inspired and clearly understand what is required to realise our vision.

In addition, as we recognise that every employee has a role to play in the customer experience, we are now taking a cross-functional approach to customer service training. Throughout 2009, the Centre will host nearly 18,000 people – more than half of the Qantas Group in ‘exceptional’ service training – from CEO, Alan Joyce right down to the frontline. The training is well underway and the positive feedback indicates the fresh, adult-style approach to learning benefiting the audience greatly.

The BOOT: Will the training at the centre be for Jetstar staff as well or just Qantas?

Qantas: The Centre is focussed on the Qantas brand experience, however we do represent our successful two-brand strategy to illustrate the depth and breadth of our domestic network offering.

The BOOT: How will you measure the return on investment for you/shareholders in this Centre? Put another way, how does Qantas put a price or "asset value" on customer care improvements?

Qantas: Customer satisfaction scores, brand recognition / loyalty and shareholder return will be considered when measuring the return on our $10 million investment.

The BOOT: With more air crew being based overseas are there plans for more of these centres in other locations (Bangkok, London)?

Qantas: On 27 November 2008 we opened the London Cabin Crew Training Centre which boasts the same guiding principles as the Sydney based Centre of Service Excellence. Its purpose-built experiential design has training and interview rooms for learning and development, events and wine training along with cabin simulators that represent our First, Business, Premium and Economy inflight offering.

Regarding other locations, we ensure that our learning and development programs can be executed off-shore to ensure that our teams, no matter where they are based, receive the same experience.

The BOOT: How much do the training programs differ between the different classes (econ, prem econ, bus, first) and the different environments (check in, lounge, air)?

Qantas: Training is tailored to the stage of the participant’s career (New trainees through to Managers) and the different customer product and service offerings. However we are aligning our ‘standards’ and ‘signatures’ right across the touch points and have four service behaviours: that provide us with a united way of working ensuring that the service our customers receive, is exceptional, at every stage of their journey.


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Penny Arabiata said...

I can hear the Australian travelling public screaming in unison, "About time!"

Oddly, the new centre looks, how should I phrase this?...EXACTLY like Virgin Atlantic's The Base (training/excellence facility) at Crawley in the UK.

First Premium Economy. Then Spas in airport lounges. Then they copied the idea of having Lyell Stranbi as a Director. Now this.

What's that that saying about imitation and flattery?

Still, hats off to the Roo for acknowledging there have been holes all through the end-to-end experience.

Question now is: Will QF staff buy into it?

Tim Hughes said...

@vuluganck - thanks for the spam. Much appreciated. Made my morning.

@Penny (great Pseudonym) - absolutely agree about the staff comment (will have to take your word on the Virgin Atlantic comment). Was discussing this with Madame BOOT last night and she put it this way. "A training centre has very little impact on customer service. It is all about recruitment. Number one way to drive a customer service culture is to hire people that believe in customer first." I agree with this. You can spend all the money in the world on training but if you are not hiring the right type of people for customer service roles then the money is wasted

Penny Arabiata said...

Well, am flying longhaul Economy with them next week...will give you an end-to-end update.

Here's hoping QF staff are rejuvenated, engaged and smiling. It's worked for Air NZ: Happy staff = Happy customers = Happy shareholders.

And all without a multi-million dollar Centre of Excellence:


Steve Sherlock said...

bit of an eye opener into what is required at that level of business.

that top image reminds me of the set of the enterprise bridge. (star trek)

on the spamming - i gave a talk last week about who comes first "seo or brand". (chicken and egg fame).

I noted that we have a written company policy of zero spamming of blogs (etc) because our brand comes first.

slide three is image of chicken and egg.

i doubt the qantas brand would be spamming blogs for seo purposes.

Tim Hughes said...

@steve - the beauty of spam comments in that Google list links in blogger comments as ref="nofollow". Means they contribute nothing to page rank etc. I delete most but sometimes I like to just point at them, call them out and (hopefully) embarrass them.

Anonymous said...

Nice insider reporting. Thanx! As a natural born skeptic, just have to say, your customer service comes thru when there is an out of ordinary situation: delays, cancellation, etc. Will fancy high tech centre be able to teach employees better to deal with irate PAX? To me, whether you have a good experience depending on luck: if your flight is on-time and smooth, then yes. If delayed even because of weather, then So&So Airline sucks. And not to mention the mood of the flight attendants that day.

Anonymous said...

Great Blog!!

I've never been treated as badly as when i made a return flight to Australia with Quantas.

The staff we just plain horrible at every level. Its an awful thing to say, but i'm just telling it like it was.

The worst part was when my wifes suitcase was claimed to be overweight for the journey home (it wasnt - they had faulty scales) and the check-in area manager told me that if I didn't want to make alternative arrangements for my flight, then I better pay up and not argue with her!!!!

Tim Hughes said...

@anon1 - I agree that a lot of your mood (why are you travelling and where) and environmental factors out of the control of the airline (weather delays) contribute to your experience and may unfairly impact of your judgement of the customer service qualities of the crew. But an airline has to know this and design their crew training and selection around this. For example if they know the plane is going to be stuck on the ground for more than 30 minutes the crew should instantly launch a secret "grounded people" plan. Something that involves feeding and entertaining people. Keeping people informed and generally going around checking if people are OK. Instead airline crew lock themselves in the front galley and hide.

@Anon2 - I hear this sort of criticism too often from Qantas passengers. On a recent podcast interview I was asked what I was asked what I thought about Qantas as a brand. I replied something like "I want to love Qantas but they make it really hard".