From zeroes to heroes

One year on from Qantas's grounding, how satisfied are its customers? Clive Dorman finds out.

The chief executive of Qantas, Alan Joyce, is putting his faith in science to raise the airline's service standards as it struggles to put its haemorrhaging international division back in the black and gambles on a new joint venture with Dubai carrier Emirates.

While Joyce's predecessor, Geoff Dixon, foresaw the need to retrain cabin crew at the airline's new customer service school in Sydney, Joyce has put the emphasis on the metrics to measure Qantas's progress in turning around the way it treats its customers.

The belief for decades has been that Qantas customer service has been either very good or very bad - an old-school style that doesn't cut it against the new competition from the Arabian Gulf and the gold standard in airline customer service set by Singapore Airlines.

Joyce has overseen the consolidation of the so-called Net Promoter Score (NPS) metric, introduced by Dixon in 2007, which measures customer satisfaction.

A business that has as many detractors as promoters earns a score of zero; a business that scores minus 10 has no promoters and a business that scores plus 10 has no detractors. A score of plus five is considered excellent.

The responses from passengers who completed post-flight NPS surveys in September, the most recent month analysed, suggest the airline is getting on top of its customer service issues since the drastic global grounding of the fleet a year ago as a result of industrial issues. Domestically, the airline says, its overall customer satisfaction score is 7.8 on a scale of one to 10, its equal highest since 2009. This compares with 6.9 in October last year at the height of the dispute. It has been at 7.6 or higher every month this year.

Internationally, Qantas's overall customer satisfaction score was at 8.2 on a scale of one to 10 compared with 7.7 in October last year. It has been at 7.9 or above every month this year and 8.2 or above every month since June.

"We are shaking up the service culture, loosening the ties, giving our people greater opportunity to freestyle and respond to our customers and their needs," Joyce says.

"We have put in place a 'closed loop' feedback system that allows us to evaluate our service based on advice from a panel of almost 13,000 frequent flyers."

The feedback is the start of a series of interactions between airline and staff to find out what it is doing right and wrong.

"We have asked some of our best people to become in-flight coaches, and observe and mentor cabin crew in-flight," Joyce says. "Using blogs and discussion groups they can test ideas and learn what works in different situations. This is a multiyear, multilayered project, but we are already seeing results beyond our expectations."

Meanwhile, Qantas is awaiting the verdict of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, expected in the next few months, on the airline's wide-ranging new relationship with Emirates, under which all of its London flights will be re-routed through Dubai instead of Singapore and Qantas flight codes put on Emirates services from Dubai to Europe, the Middle East, Africa and North and South America.

The ACCC approved a similar arrangement between Virgin Australia and Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways less than a year ago.