A Loyal Customer’s Perspective On 5 Things That Kenya Airways Could Fix Immediately To Regain Former Glory.
I have what you would call a love-hate relationship with Kenya Airways (KQ). On one hand, I am extremely proud of what they have achieved over the years since they were privatised and unleashed their goal of becoming a world-class airline. On the other hand, over the last couple of years, as an extremely (Read: EXTREMELY) loyal customer who only recently got upgraded to a silver flying blue card, I am appalled at what I see as a steady decline in the quality of the customer experience with KQ, across the board. It certainly feels that the very worst of what could happen with the “Pride of Africa” has indeed happened.
I have mulled over writing this blog post ever since a couple of weeks ago I had to travel suddenly on a personal emergency to Mombasa with KQ at an exorbitant price on a one-way ticket early in the morning. Considering how early we had to make it to the airport, we assumed that KQ would certainly avail a decent breakfast on-board the flight. To my utter amazement, and, complete disappointment, we were served a couple of small packets of mixed nuts and some juice as well as coffee or tea. I am not sure exactly why I was shocked but I really had expected more when you have had to pay Kes. 16,000.00 for a one-way ticket to Mombasa on an emergency. It just seemed, how do you say, insulting?
A more recent memory that still engages me on what I would say were KQ’s halcyon days would be the when they acquired their Boeing 777 fleet. I recall once again travelling to Mombasa during the peak of the Christmas holidays that year and like many Nairobi folk for a break. Due to the large number of passengers going to Mombasa, KQ opted to put one of the 777s on that route. All I can say is that if you have not been on this plane before is that its HUGE. Considering this was a few years ago and the 777 was at the very cutting edge of technology and creature comforts, I was quite blown away! I remember thinking quite vividly that KQ had outdone themselves – I was super proud to think that this was what Kenya could achieve – that KQ had “arrived” at being world-class. It was one of those rare moments when you could just not hold back your feelings of pride as an African – you genuinely felt that an African business could really challenge the best in the world, and win!
So, the catalyst for this blog post for me today is reading the news summaries that came out over the weekend from KQ’s financial reports. The numbers are scary. They made a net loss of Kes. 7.8 Billion. They spent in the region of US$ 0.5 Billion on fuel alone owing to the fact African airlines spend as much as 40% more on fuel compared to other Global airlines. The process of effecting a KQ turnaround seems daunting although reports indicate that recent improvements in the global economy have had a knock-on effect and they are seeing a rise in passenger loads on many of their routes and especially in Africa. So, in a nutshell, in-spite of their bad financials over the past year, KQ is very much on the mend, or so we are being told.
That being said, I am not a financial services guru so I really cannot read the tea leaves where KQ’s future is concerned. However, I am still a loyal customer, to a fault, since I honestly believe that we must support local and African enterprises whenever we can having been an Entrepreneur myself for many years – as in, if we cannot support our own, who will? It’s quite simple, don’t you think? However, when I think about KQ, looking through the lens of being a regular customer, I can’t help but share 5 things from this perspective that I think will help KQ on their road to recovery. These are my own interpretations of what I believe a world-class customer experience should be like for any global airline, as is the case with Kenya Airways, who when all is said and done, I will peculiarly keep flying:
- Lacking in-flight customer experience – In my opinion, as it currently stands, this is probably the weakest area that needs attention. Its something I have noticed is suffering and has been doing so for a few years now. It comes from having had to be on a plane for instance for 5 hours with broken seats that do not recline or in-flight entertainment that does not work. It comes from having meals that are short on quantity and quality, which surprisingly in one of your resolutions from this weekend’s financial disclosures you actually intend to further cut back on to save on operating costs?! Seriously?! It comes from occasionally encountering flight cabin crew who seem totally devoid of empathy or concern, like they are really only on the job for the money. It comes from luggage bins that do not close and need to be taped as a last resort. I think you get the picture – the WHOLE in-flight customer experience needs a revamp.
- Regional competition is nipping at your feet, and winning – I recently had to fly both Air Uganda to Uganda and Rwandair to Rwanda. Call me arrogant or aloof but I had expected them to be worse than KQ. I expected bad experience since after all they are much newer and therefore less experienced that the mighty KQ. Lo and behold! I was amazed at how good they both were – the customer experience in both cases was flawless! Yes, they have smaller (and surprising nice!) planes and they do at times feel like novices but they are doing an excellent job. Their planes are in good nick and you can tell they know they are second best to KQ and are doing everything they can, no matter how small, to differentiate themselves, and win customers for life. This is everything from exceptional attention to detail, as well as really personalised service. They almost certainly have started eating KQ’s lunch as customers vote with their feet, even if only marginally, at this juncture? However, thats how it begins, doesn’t it? As they say, how do you eat an elephant? one bite at a time. Also, did I mention their rates are less expensive than KQ’s in most cases?
- Your social media sucks, really, even as your e-commerce sparkles – I am a ardent blogger and therefore you could say I am something of an expert on social media matters. Therefore, considering KQ is a global 24 X 7 X 365 business where a plane could be landing or taking off on any part of the planet at anytime, its surprising that your social media activities are really nothing to write home about, especially in a Kenya where bad service targets like Kenya Power and Safaricom seem to have gotten onto this bandwagon with much zeal. Its quite evident for instance that whoever is responsible for social media customer service at KQ turns the lights off on Friday evening at 5.00 pm and they go back on again on Monday at around 9.00 am. Really?! KQ?! World-class ambitions with no social media engagement after hours and on the weekend?! Really? And you wonder why customers did not board as much as they did in previous years?! Really? Nuff said and point made – take a cue from Kenya Power’s and Safaricom’s social media playbook. Its really one of your worst aspects as far as the digital customer experience is concerned. However, your saving grace is how well KQ leverages e-commerce as one of the undisputed champions in this arena from Kenya.
- When things go wrong, have a better customer response plan – I seem to recall a few years ago travelling for an important business trip to Tanzania and for whatever reason there was a technical problem on the plane and we needed to stay in Nairobi for the night so that we could travel in the morning instead. Besides the fact this messed up my schedule the next day, what was more disconcerting for me was the manner in which the KQ customer service handled the whole matter of shipping out customers to hotels that evening and giving us some allowances, etc. It was slow, cumbersome and seemed disjointed. It was not the “slick and smooth” experience that one expects when this sort of thing happens with a world-class airline like KQ. It felt, for all intents and purposes, what one could only expect from a lower grade airline, and not KQ. I wonder if this has improved but from speaking to other regular flyers on KQ when this has happened recently, it still seems bad. Lets not even get into lost luggage or other aspects of things going wrong as there is even a Facebook Group dedicated just to KQ on this sort of thing.
- Better align premium pricing to a premium customer experience – This is probably KQ’s most poignant achilles heel at this juncture. Its one thing to talk about a bad financial year due all sorts of operational challenges, this we can accept. However, on the flip side, KQ is charging premium rates for what has clearly become an ordinary if not sub-par customer experience. Yes, your competitors are offering lower prices with even better value propositions and this leads me to believe that there seems to be a lack of alignment with market realities. I have often forgone flying airlines like Emirates, South African Airlines (SAA), and British Airways to go with Kenya Airways, and at times paying more to do so and have found myself wondering why I did so after my flights. On the occasions I had to fly SAA for instance, you really got to your destination feeling that was a superior customer experience, hands-down. Therefore, if KQ intends to charge more, then its imperative you offer more and not less. Market realities dictate that KQ needs to adjust this anomaly sooner rather than later, lest customers will continue to vote with their wallets, and feet.