How often do we in research have to make a case for our work and define its value to the business? To the unenlightened, research can be seen as a business cost, and in times of budget cuts it can be an early casualty. At a recent CXPA event, it was encouraging and salutary to learn about the value provided by the Aer Lingus ‘Voice of the Guest’ programme
Although always associated with strong customer service, Aer Lingus began to focus on CX again in earnest in 2014. At that time the economy was starting to pick up, but people were still not taking the same level of holidays per year as they were in the boom era.
Operating in a hugely competitive category and needing to keep price proximate with competitors the challenge was to optimise customer satisfaction whilst also winning share and financial outcomes. This conundrum was compounded by the fact that like many others, Aer Lingus had put limited investment into customer research during the recession and they were making decisions based on a limited understanding of what was driving satisfaction.
Michelle McLoughlin, Head of Customer Insights, at Aer Lingus shared how they rose to this challenge. She explained Aer Lingus first undertook a sizable segmentation piece where they looked to understand afresh both who their customers were and what those customers’ needs were. Critically, they sought to prove that a differentiated offer would resonate better with individual segments.
Once confirmed, differentiated and appropriate CX journeys were designed for each of the identified segments. Michelle went on to talk about how the company then needed an evidence-based decision-making tool to help them guide investment decisions across these key segments. As such, their ‘Voice of the Guest’ programme was developed. In this on-going programme, customers are interviewed within two days of their trip. This statistically robust research not only presented the problem, but provided ideas for the solutions, offering clear direction on what Aer Lingus could do better.
Michelle talked us through two specific initiatives that were informed by the ‘Voice of the Guest ‘data: 1) replacement of the In Flight Entertainment screens, which required significant investment but delivered a significant uplift in guest satisfaction and 2) an upgrade of long haul economy food, another driver of improved guest satisfaction albeit at a lower level. The robustness and consistency of the data provided by the ‘Voice of the Guest’ programme won trust for it as a decision-making tool and now the data it provides informs investment and other relevant decisions, with progress carefully monitored.
At the same time as Aer Lingus invested in the ‘Voice of the Guest’ programme it also began its landmark ‘Good to Great’ CX improvement programme driven by the belief that the worker experience drives the customer experience. Marc Giles, Head of Guest Experience in Aer Lingus, gave us insight into the company’s work in this area. Marc began by explaining that in the competitive world of air travel, ‘operations’ (on-time flights, aircraft, safety, airports) and ‘product’ (seats, lounges, entertainment) are easily replicable. It is essentially through the experience they create that an airline can truly distinguish itself from its competitors. Aer Lingus understood it needed to engage its employees at the front line and help them to understand the importance of customer satisfaction and the importance of their role in contributing to it. For it was these guest-facing personnel that to large extent would bring the Aer Lingus brand to life, evidence what the company stood for and how they were differentiated from other airlines.
An early concept used by Aer Lingus was the ‘guest’ philosophy: to recognise the value of people. This sought to move thinking and action from a transactional encounter with a customer to a relational approach where interactions were towards building a customer for life. The ‘Good to Great’ programme sought to develop this understanding in all employees. However, rather than risk alienating staff with yet another training programme, the team developed a one-day immersive experience for staff to allow them to live the ideal passenger experience. A room was constructed and filled with artefacts that exemplified the desired service standards and actors allowed staff to practice the new relational way with guests. Well-considered, with a ‘wow factor’, the ‘Good to Great’ programme, unsurprisingly, truly engaged staff.
Marc reported Aer Lingus has risen from being ranked 97 on the World Airport Ratings operated by Skytrax to rank 36 and is now part of an exclusive group of forty airlines worldwide who have a 4 star rating. Notably too, the airline has now returned to profitability.
So what can we learn from Aer Lingus? Michelle and Marc advised:
- Secure executive level sponsorship
This was critical, especially at the early stages to get the ‘Voice of the Guest’ research aired.
- Data drives better decision-making
With robust consistent data decision-making moves from ad hoc to evidence-based
- Set simple KPIs
To ensure accountability and show impact the KPIs of your CX programme need to be simple and shared
- Apply a discover, design and deliver model
A continuous change model ensures the process is always well informed
After an engaging presentation, our Aer Lingus colleagues left us with this final thought, an apt travel metaphor: CX is not a destination, but a journey.
That said, so we go on…
Michelle McLoughlin, Head of Customer Insights and Marc Giles, Head of Guest Experience at Aer Lingus, shared their insights at a recent CXPA event in Dublin.
CXPA (Customer Experience Professionals Association) Ireland is the Irish chapter of the global CXPA organisation that comes together to promote and develop Customer Experience best practice. As a rapidly growing organisation we are keen to welcome new members and anyone with an interest in CX to become involved. Please contact the CXPA here at firstname.lastname@example.org to join.