Culture and Customer Service – Air New Zealand

July 15, 2010

I travel. A lot. Last year I did around 200000 miles in the air and all of it was with Air New Zealand on their own, or their code share partner’s, flights. I spend a lot of time talking about what an amazing experience travelling with Air New Zealand is, and I wanted to take a deep dive into what makes their culture tick – and what that means for customer service.

First, an overview of their customer service perspective. Air New Zealand begins their approach by fully understanding their customers – breaking down where they want to travel, in what numbers, why, when, and what they value on those journeys. This gives them the ability to determine their network and schedule, and their product and service is defined to match the needs of our customer on those journeys. This culture of innovation extend throughout the organization – every “Air New Zealander” (the internal name Air NZ uses for its staff) is charged with looking at how they can make a difference to the customer, and to the business.

I invited Air New Zealand to give their thoughts around culture, and how it relates to excellence of service. While their answers are understandably airline-centric, there are some real lessons any organization can take from them around culture, empowering staff and customer engagement.

From Air New Zealand

Culture – empowering our people

There are two main ways to establishing a culture – one is a process driven way in which everything is defined, prescribed, scripted and consistent. Or a more Kiwi way where people are unshackled from complex rules and systems, allowed and trusted to be themselves and motivated to deliver great customer service.

It can sometimes be hard to let go in this way, but Air New Zealand’s management team decided they needed confidence in the passion of our people, and that given the right framework and appropriate levels of empowerment, they will get it right.

To develop this framework, Air New Zealand did away with the dusty, grey old vision and mission statements that don’t mean anything to anyone. Our brand was evolving and becoming more Kiwi, making the promise that anyone who travels with Air New Zealand will go on an incredible journey reflecting both the people who take you on your journey and the experience once you get to New Zealand.

In 2006, we conducted research to find out what typified ‘uniquely kiwi service’. We asked thousands of our customers, travelers and ex-pats what traits they thought were intrinsically ‘kiwi’. Based on the response we identified four specific behaviors which summed us up.

These were developed into our Brand Characteristics which help our people understand what our organization values and how they’re expected to behave. Those four values are:

  • Welcome as a Friend
  • Can Do
  • Be Yourself
  • Share Your New Zealand

They not only define what makes the airline different from a customer’s perspective but also the culture aspired to internally, the type of leadership we want and the way we believe customers should be treated.

The Brand Characteristics are kept ‘top of mind’ across regular internal communications channels, as well as in-house promotions and competitions. Staff are encouraged to share their stories relating to the Brand Characteristics on our intranet and to nominate colleagues they believe are worthy of recognition through our “We’re Impressed” awards.

Central to the efforts in changing culture is the development of a particular style of leadership. The Air New Zealand style of leadership is described as uniquely Kiwi: at once relaxed and welcoming, innovative and results focussed.

Customer Experience

Our people are knowledgeable not just about the country, but also things to do when you get to your destination and recommending good places to dine out.

Combine the degree of local knowledge with friendly, uniquely Kiwi personable service delivered with a great product and you’ve got a special compelling and attractive proposition for customers.

Air New Zealanders deliver a common service style in a unique and easy going manner. This style has been identified as intrinsic to New Zealanders as a whole. Customers constantly reflect back via multiple feedback channels regarding how they feel about this unique style of service……

I had said goodbye to my family prior to boarding as I am going on my OE. I was crying on board and the air hostess provided me with tissues without my asking and stopped to chat. It was genuine and made me feel comfortable about crying a little bit more! It was lovely to know someone who was a staff member had noticed I was upset and took the time to understand why and help me out. I wish I had her name as she was so lovely.

The crew were very warm and friendly and took the time to talk to you in a genuine way. This is what we love about NZ!!!!!

My experience of flying with Air New Zealand, both domestic and international over 35 years, has always been positive.  I have always found ground and flight crew to be friendly, efficient and very professional in the way they carry out their tasks. Having flown with a number of airlines on long haul flights I continue to rate Air New Zealand ahead of all others and those sentiments are shared by a number of friends who fly Air New Zealand to visit us.

It is this unique brand personality that drives decisions right across the business.  It empowers employees to be constantly listening to customers to find out what is important to them; it encourages fresh thinking and ideas and promotes a positive and vibrant attitude right across the organization. It is what differentiates Air New Zealand from its competitors and helps us to develop relationships with our customers.

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