Qantas is hoping for a major uplift in customer experience as it transforms the way it collects and harnesses customer feedback in its operations.
The airline is about five months into the implementation phase of the transformation project, which started in mid-January following an extensive RFI/RFP process.
Qantas' head of group research and insights Patricia Limanouw told the recent Qualtrics X4 Summit in Sydney that “significant global forces” were at play in the aviation sector, which affected how Qantas operated and how it could meet the future demands of customers.
“Our mission is to be the first choice for customers in every single market we serve through the investment in our customers, and to continue our focus on delivering our world famous service,” Limanouw said.
“Underpinning this is our Voice of the Customer program, which actually has run for over 10 years in the organisation and delivers consistently the outputs that are needed for customer performance metrics and the insights to make improvements”.
Voice of the Customer (VoC) is used to collect customer feedback about their experiences with and expectations for a company’s products or services.
While the VoC research outputs from Qantas were “solid and very highly regarded across the organisation”, Limanouw said that implementations of customer feedback research programs “was still quite disparate across the business units” in terms of agencies, partners and platforms used.
Recognising that there was room for improvement, the group research and insights team - “with support from group procurement and our technology teams … embarked on an RFI process” in May last year to explore what a future state might look like.
Planning an uplift
The RFI/RFP process spanned about six months, involved 28 strategic market research vendors and research technology platforms, and 50-plus cross-functional and divisional teams from across Qantas.
From that process emerged “a strong case and need for the Qantas Group to evolve its current VoC program because the current landscape that we operate in has changed.”
Qantas reset the vision for VoC as a “holistic brand, customer and employee experience insight program”, instead of a series of disparate research activities and siloed datasets.”
The airline saw opportunities to uplift its customer and employee experiences with newer technologies.
“On-platform capabilities have significantly increased leaps and bounds compared to a few years ago,” Limanouw said.
“We saw a range of possibilities from AI-based conversation surveys to end-to-end respondent management system to VoC via any type of connected devices.
“That’s particularly important for airlines [where] you're talking about seatbacks, kiosk and lounge touchpoints [to collect customer feedback], as well as seamless integration with Salesforce and Adobe Analytics.”
Qantas also wanted to integrate customer feedback with operational data, helping them better understand how customers interacted with operational technologies such as at check-in, and to personalise the experience offered.
At the same time, Qantas wanted to make sure that a revitalised VoC program could deliver the kind of information and insights into customers that staff wanted to see.
“We saw consistent themes in what the teams across the group wants to see from our group Voice of Customer program, and this ‘perfect storm’ between [customer and employee desires] really helped us push and rally the group to embark on our transformation journey,” Limanouw said.
In particular, staff wanted automated, real-time access to customer stats via “meaningful dashboards”.
“Faster access to feedback and being able to make actionable improvements as they happen, particularly for operational standpoint, is key,” Limanouw said.
There was also a “strong desire from our stakeholders to be able to conduct test-and-learn on a much more agile basis for new products and services that we roll out,” she noted.
Traditionally, testing things like new meal choices on routes, for example, relied on customers filling out paper-based surveys.
Finally, there was interest from staff in being able to link VoC data with other datasets such as operational net promoter scores (NPS) and customer satisfaction (CSAT). This could take the form of VoC customer feedback being visible in the employee crew app.
Qantas is standardising its internal customer research activities across the group on a technology platform provided by Qualtrics, which was recently bought out by SAP.
“In mid-January when we kicked off the implementation phase, within two weeks and with the assistance from our group transformation team we established several small but selective working groups,” Limanouw said.
“Alongside the core working team group sessions, we have a business steering groups across Qantas, Jetstar, loyalty, freight, technology and legal that runs fortnightly, and an executive steering group (ESG) with our C-level and exec managers across these business units that runs monthly for critical buy-ins and final decisions.”
The transformation itself is being run in an agile fashion, in part to deconstruct what would otherwise be an extremely large and complex package of work.
“With the complexity, size and history of an organisation like Qantas, whereby systems and processes have run for years and they have run perfectly, implementations of any transformation program can be quite overwhelming,” Limanouw said.
“We really learned the art and the science of breaking seemingly mammoth task into bite-sized chunks, phasing them over time and having really clear milestones and priorities based on things that we can actually demonstrate [as] quick wins.
“Being agile, we do small chunks of test and we iterate, iterate, iterate, and move at speed.”
The project team run daily standups with involvement from “the research and insights team, group transformation, technology, change management, learning and development”, as well as Qualtrics, who have staff working out of Qantas’ offices two days a week.
“It was very, very hard at the beginning, but as we get into the habit and the rhythm, it becomes a lot easier, and really helps coordinate the roles and responsibilities … and open that communication line within the team,” Limanouw said.
More to do
Qantas’ transformation journey in this space is “only at the beginning”, she added.
“It's about 19 weeks since we started the implementation, and we're continuing to optimise, integrate and operationalise our VoC program through a large number of critical activities.”
The airline is in a “lift and shift” process to transition its existing customer research programs to run on Qualtrics.
It is setting up sizable customer panels to run on the platform. The Qantas panel numbers some 12,000 customers, and similar panels have either been set up - or are in the process of being set up - for Jetstar, loyalty, and freight operations.
Qantas’ technology team is continuing to work directly with Qualtrics on systems integration, both internal and external.
The airline is hoping to be harnessing analytics at a much deeper level “both on and off platform” by FY20, Limanouw said.
“VoC is plugged very closely into group data and technologies activity and in continuing to build a single customer view.
“As an extension to that, linking voice of the customer and voice of the employee, and ensuring that our customer feedback from VoC is part of our employee rewards and recognition [is a focus].
“Our people experience team are also now embarking on the same transformation journey as us with Qualtrics and we are in lockstep with them.
“In the next 24 months, hopefully quicker, we're looking to optimize and link the full brand, customer, product and employee experience all under Qualtrics.”
The transformation team is also building technical and research playbooks to teach different parts of the organisation, and the airline’s 30,000 employees, how to use research data and Qualtrics to get the insights they want.
“There's still an immense amount of work for us to do,” Limanouw said.