Customer satisfaction versus profits – an aviation perspective

As most readers know, my “hobby” revolves around airports, airlines, business lounges and planes.  So I was looking forward to the latest results from Skytrax, who produce an annual ranking system, based on approximately 20,000,000 customer reviews.  Here’s three observations I made from the 2017 Skytrax results:

  1. Customer satisfaction comes from delivering the right experience to meet customer needs
  2. Before guaranteeing that happy customers = profit, ensure you can demonstrate that value
  3. If you try and become all things to all men, you lose you focus and ultimately, customers

When looking at where the highest scoring airlines are geographically located, Middle Eastern and Asian companies are dominant.  New fleets of aircraft, beautiful interiors, polished experience on the ground lead customers to give the top box scores over & over.  The Middle Eastern carriers have leap-frogged over other legacy long haul providers to join the Asian airlines in the top ranks year after year.  What the result suggests is that airlines that invest in their products and services can expect to achieve the highest customer ranking.  Is this ranking driving greater repeat business? Does that directly link to profitability?  In order to consider this question, we might need to look a little lower down the performance table.

Low cost carriers (LCCs) are figuring higher and higher up the league table each year.  As consumers start to grasp the “you get what you pay for” concept, coupled with the ongoing economic downturn (making customers more price sensitive), as low cost carriers fixed their poor servicing models, customers are scoring them higher.  They continue to move up year after year, and are now creeping into the top 30 global airlines.

This suggests that in order to be rated well by a customer, you don’t have to deliver a “bells & whistles” luxury experience, but you do have to deliver consistency.   It also gives credence to my long-held belief that behaviours and habits take time to form (and to stick) – if you were used to a high touch service with luggage, food and drink and ability to change your ticket included in the cost of your flight, to suddenly have to pay for each part separately and have less choice in your experience would make you feel pretty miserable (even if you only paid half the price.)  However, over time, as you “get used” to a different model, you feel more comfortable with the experience and start to rate it more highly.

From a personal perspective, I was curious to see the impact of cost cutting on the traditional “legacy” carriers, and whether the reduction in experience and service (coupled with the rise of the LCCs) was having an effect. The airline I travel with most often really stuck out with their historical ranking on Sktrax.

1st place in 2006
26th place in 2016
40th place in 2017

The airline currently risks being downgraded to the same ranking as the LCCs.  Whilst this may not go down so well with the brand and marketing teams, to date, there is not a lot of evidence to suggest that the company’s ability to generate profit has been eroded. So a mixed message on customer satisfaction versus profitability.


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