At easyJet’s training academy, a room of cabin crew are watching comedian Dawn French hurtle, screaming, towards a lake before launching herself in. The video cuts to a drawing room of a stately home where a hushed circle of suspects is sternly informed by a detective of the crime – murder – but the weapon? Behaviour and poor treatment at the hands of sales assistants, which proved fatal. EasyJet staff have gone back into the training room to be instructed on their ABC – attitude, behaviour and communication – and are being shown how unwitting actions make an impression on customers. There are disapproving tuts as they watch cabin crew actors on screen stow up trays with a weary sigh or a pouting stewardess flouncing towards a departure gate. Customer service has become easyJet’s own weapon, wielded against rivals in the highly competitive airline market. Under Carolyn McCall, chief executive, raising the customer satisfaction bar has been placed at the heart of what easyJet does, in its aim to seize more market share and reach its goal of becoming Europe’s preferred short-haul airline. The low-cost airline is pushing ahead with a programme to transform company culture and the results have been evident: its full year pre-tax profit increased 51 per cent to £478m and it will pay out a £175m dividend. Furthermore, after two recent profit warnings Ryanair has acknowledged the success of its rival’s efforts and done an abrupt U-turn, with chief executive Michael O’Leary admitting it needed to stop ‘unnecessarily pissing people off’. ‘As a low-cost airline it’s where we can differentiate ourselves,’ Angie Mullen, easyJet’s cabin crew service and standards manager says of its drive. As she walks through the academy she points out staff who have won awards and talks about the inter-airline competitions coming up. ‘No pressure,’ she says as she paces down the corridor, ‘no pressure’. Ms McCall has underscored the difference between it and the ‘stuffy’ and more formal competition. ‘If you go on our planes, our crew will have a laugh with you,’ she says. ‘If it’s appropriate, they’ll have a joke – they’re very easy.’ Getting that judgment right is down to experience, says crew member Jonathan Roberts. His colleague, Leslie Gamble adds: ‘With businessmen often you get them a coffee, say ‘“anything else sir”, get a ‘“no thanks” and you move on. But you get other passengers that want to share their life story.’ Meanwhile, the list of initiatives to raise standards and burnish the ‘orange spirit’ is lengthy and growing. Out has gone the old uniform with the garish orange men’s shirt, in instead are touches of orange and a ‘fun’ striped tie. A magazine-style book of style tips dispenses advice such as ‘the tousled look has no place onboard’ and instructing ladies to keep underwear to white or nude shades only. There is a customer charter, made of promises from staff. There are scores of ‘customer champions’, employees with a brief to inform and inspire colleagues. There is a pledge day, numerous internal awards and a Spirit Awards Portal, where staff log on to commend colleagues. There are feel-good videos and next, behaviour pins, to be won by crew for displaying certain behaviours towards passengers. The incentive is mainly company pride – winning your name on an aircraft, or becoming an ambassador for Unicef. ‘We’ve been working really hard for two years on this cultural transformation around the customer,’ says Lisa Burger, head of customer experience. Its homework includes studies such as What Does Friendly Look Like? Customer satisfaction is up, and the test now will be keeping the momentum to stay ahead. ‘We’re full of ideas,’ says Peter Duffy, marketing and customer director. ‘We have a raft of stuff coming, some small, some big, which is going to make us better and better.’ He is particularly proud of the work that has gone into repositioning the brand, into the website and app as well as on innovations such as allocated seating. Innovation is crucial, he says, flipping out his phone and scrolling through snaps that have inspired, from transport staff to Hare Krishnas on London pavements. Rivals will not be able to catch up, he insists, because ‘we’ve been hiring against the criteria of great service for years and that is very, very difficult to replicate’. But Ryanair dismisses their argument. ‘I don’t buy that,’ says Caroline Green, head of customer service. ‘We’ve always had good service on board. Some of the policies being softened make it easier for excellent service to show through. They [easyJet] will have their work cut out because we’re going to be up and on a par with them very, very quickly.’ It has followed in simplifying its website, is to introduce allocated seating in February and said last month it would take only three to six months to catch easyJet up. Analysts point to the time needed to effect change. ‘You can’t put a time on how long it takes to strengthen your brand name, for the perception of the airline to improve among the general public,’ says Gert Zonneveld, analyst at Panmure Gordon. With many of the 30,000 staff being well educated and not direct employees, such as at airports, Ms Burger admits that other airlines may reap the advantages of their efforts. But she says: ‘The industry is now challenging the industry to get better, that is only a benefit for everybody.’
1 What is the link between internal marketing and service quality in the airline industry?
2 What is the rationale for a cross-functional partnership in a company such as easyJet?
3 Is it sufficient for easyJet to have internal training programmes or should these be extended to external partners?