I have just returned from a great holiday. My wife Jenny and I spent time in South Africa, Europe, the UK (soon will not be part of Europe) and the Baltic states including St Petersburg. Most of our air travel was with Air New Zealand, however we had to use a Star Alliance partner, Lufthansa (code share with South African Airways), to get to Europe from Johannesburg. Right off the bat I want to say what a brilliant job everyone did on the Air New Zealand flights. From our check in experiences through being welcomed on board and the farewell at the end, brilliant!
Across the board, Air New Zealand was superior to every other airline we used. The entire customer experience journey was filled with surprise and delight and exceeded anything else we experienced.
I am very aware that Air New Zealand has specifically worked on the entire customer experience from booking tickets, through to gaining boarding passes, dealing with the bag drop, enhancing the quality of the airport lounges, upgrading the fleet and even the technology at the seat (you can text other passengers using the in-seat screen). Whilst doing this they have also embarked on growth with new aircraft like the 787 and opened up new destinations such as Houston and San Francisco. Air New Zealand’s strategy is being perfectly executed because the company has worked so hard on ensuring a world class culture.
I have often used Drucker’s expression; “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” and my experiences recently of Air New Zealand reinforce that statement. No matter what edicts or expectations or goals or objectives are issued by the Executive Leadership, at the end of the day the front line decide one moment to another how they will respond to situations they are confronted with at the coalface. It is insane to believe that anyone controls how someone else will respond. What is patently obvious as I dealt with Air New Zealand staff was that they all believed the vision, they believe the mission, they live the values and they want to be part of the journey of success they have been exposed to over the last 5 or 6 years.
How do I know this?
I know this because the air crew that I engaged with told me that this is how they feel about their airline! Further, the interactions with staff and crew were authentic and consistently good.
An Air New Zealand flight attendant on the London to Los Angeles leg told me how valued she felt when invited to attend a conference in London held specifically to update UK based staff and crew on the progress the company was making, on how the company was achieving its strategic objectives and how important the front line contribution is to the overall performance of the company. This woman is Polish, she has lived in the UK for 16 years and has worked for Air New Zealand for a number of years. Her passion for the airline was patently obvious and there is nothing in the world more valuable than employees that feel that way about their employer.
We are in business for one reason, to make shareholders wealthy! Air New Zealand has done a very good job in making its shareholders wealthier. Fortunately, those who are ultimately responsible for running the business that is Air New Zealand have learnt that to achieve the primary goal you have to create a customer experience that is second to none. The former is achieved by having staff who are committed to the vision and who build a culture that is world class.
The other airlines I flew with did not come close on any measure. As I said, “Thumbs up for Air New Zealand!” It is delightful boarding a plane at Heathrow and hearing the English crew member cheerfully greet you with, “Kia Ora, welcome aboard!”