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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
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17 Comments

  1. June 16, 2013 at 12:18 pm — Reply

    This post is point on. Just to add on how disgusting their in-flight experience is. I flew KQ last year to Amsterdam which was the longest 8 hours of my life since my entertainment w unit was not working. I had sworn never to fly KQ again but alas, my return ticket from Amsterdam to Kenya was still KQ. I sat on a totally different seat and my entertainment unit was not working again!! Well I called the cabin crew to complain about this and they proudly told me that they were aware that 30+ entertainment units were out of order! I put up a special request to have more beers so that I could sleep for most of the time and my request was well received 🙂 Anyways, the in-flight experience offered by KQ is indeed below par. I hope they will correct this and other things given the wake up call from the figures in the FY report. Otherwise, I will still try KQ in the future since it is our own and if they screw it up again then I will choose other airlines using my wallet and feet:)

  2. Evelyn Kibuchi
    June 16, 2013 at 8:50 pm — Reply

    This blog is speaking to me. As I write this, I have just arrived in Brussels without my luggage. It was left in Amsterdam apparently. And yes, I traveled by KQ!. To add salt to injury as the previous writer said, my inflight entertainment was not working.( this was a blessing in disguise as I was able to do quite a bit on my laptop before the battery died). All the buttons on the TV remote are worn out so I was not even aware what I was pressing. Breakfast was pathetic. It consisted of a bun, a small croissant and tea. Nothing else. This was, considering that the flight departed Nairobi at 8.15am meaning we had left our houses at 5.00am or earlier therefore majority had had no proper breakfast. What shocked me was that in the breakfast package, there were small sachets of salt and pepper. What were these for? Didn’t they all go to waste as no one was going to use pepper on tea? And they ask why they are making losses? While we would want to help local companies grow, not when the quality of service is this compromised!

    • James
      June 17, 2013 at 6:49 pm — Reply

      Evelyn, your experience touches on 4 out of the 5 areas that need improvement…and pole sana. But just to play devil’s advocate, could you fill us in on how your misconnected bags were KQs fault? Their flight terminates in Amsterdam no? On all other counts, they need to bite the bullet and up their game with the meals and entertainment.

  3. Adimu Mwambari
    June 17, 2013 at 7:21 am — Reply

    Good Morning, this blog does raise some serious issues which KQ i hope they will read, take note and rectify.
    But i believe with the new aircrafts that are on their way things should start looking up. The issues of lost bagage is usually not the problem with the airline i think its also the process thats followed with the airports authority but i believe things are improving. A revamped marketing & customer strategy is in place and i know the next quater accounts will show a marked improvement.

    • June 17, 2013 at 7:25 am — Reply

      @adimu Thanks for the feedback. Do you work for KQ? How do you know that a revamped marketing and customer strategy is in place and results will follow in the next quarter? Do tell?

  4. Alex
    June 17, 2013 at 11:25 am — Reply

    Perhaps you should have mentioned on time departures. Especially for domestic flights. I have many times arrived at the airport on time to catch the 6 o’clock flight to Mombasa only for the flight to leave at 11pm. In all these instances the passengers are left at the mercy of the little girls at the ‘floor’ and no one cares to explain the reasons for delays. indeed one time regular passengers developed a theory that KQ would book people on the 6pm, 8pm and 11pm flight but will only dispatch one plane at 11pm to cut on costs – an explanation that sounds believable. The big contrast is that if you arrived late for a flight, changing into a later one costs you $50 as ‘no show fees’. So in summary, they can do as they wish with your time, they can miss flights with not so much as an acceptable apology (announcing the delay on the airport PA system doesn’t count as an apology if the delay is more than 30mins) but not you; you miss, you pay dearly!
    The inflight crew, always behave as if they are doing you a favor in serving you and go about this so mechanically that you feel like you are dealing with a robot.

  5. June 17, 2013 at 2:52 pm — Reply

    Moses,
    On the social media side, its important to note that Kenya Airways was the first to write that playbook. In 2009, they had a lady managing that account, yes, it was a lady, I made a point of asking.
    Now, this lady was very efficient, she would sleep after midnight, after that AMS flight leaves and she had such info it was scary. If you complained, you would get an answer then, I remember Larry Madowo complained of a late flight to Mombasa and the answer was that the aircraft had broken down. Its frustrating but I would rather wait than crash.
    So, maybe KQ should go back to the social media playbook.

  6. June 18, 2013 at 1:13 pm — Reply

    Travelling has problems also

  7. Christine
    June 19, 2013 at 2:22 pm — Reply

    Hi Moses,
    you are so on point on issue no. 4! last year I traveled with my then 7 month old son from Zambia aboard a KQ flight that delayed overnight in Lilongwe because it had a flat tire and they didn’t have a jack(imagine!!!). I therefore missed my connecting flight to Eldoret. Upon our arrival at JKIA they first keep my child and I in the cold airport for over two hours waiting for them to figure out how the connecting ticket I was issued in Lilongwe by their staff (to Eldoret) was apparently fictitious. they eventually come back and tell us we have to buy a new ticket on their courier to Eldoret yet it was because of their delay that I missed the 540 connection. 6 months later we are still waiting for a response from them. I guess they are still on the Friday 5pm. to Monday 8 am break 

    • June 19, 2013 at 4:57 pm — Reply

      @christine sorry to hear about your bad experience. More & more of these keep pouring in from this blog post. Rest assured I am meeting their head of marketing soon and will bring this up with them.

  8. June 19, 2013 at 3:16 pm — Reply

    Overall I’ve had quite good flights with KQ – with less drama on the local than the foreign legs – and the last two round-trip local flights have been flawless, on time hops, with the only gripe that the flights were too short for the cabin crew to serve hot beverages in the early morning.

    I feel sad given that, they have this tremendous impact across Africa, were/are a model of successful profitable privatization for many years and had/have a wonderful brand across the aviation industry amid regional wars and high fuel & taxation costs

    The airline has remained in expansion mode, reaching new African cities, welcomed by nations that don’t have their own airlines, but sniffing out new places at the same time as Ethiopian Air and others like Emirates and South African. Fleet-wise, the flagship 777 planes are now entering mid-life (the first one was delivered in 2004) , the first 787’s will be delivered 4 years behind schedule, and some staff have not embraced the Embraer’s that the airline has embraced it’s short routes.

    But at its core, KQ’s problems stem from a breakdown in their staff belief in management and specifically the CEO’s style and strategy. Everything else – poor customer service, flight delays/cancellations, union & pilot disputes, Embraer’s & expats, new routes, low cost Jambo Jet – are all undermined because it seems staff no longer believe in the management or care about the airline and its customers. One local CEO spoke of the madharau (don’t care attitude) at KQ evidenced by a stewardess who wore a torn stocking on duty.

    Naikuni has stuck around for a long time, longer than other CEO’s – and while a change of CEO can have a positive (see Standard/KTN) or negative impact, it’s something that KLM as the deciding shareholder should consider as a first move to restoring staff, shareholder, financier and customer confidence in the airline.

    • June 19, 2013 at 4:55 pm — Reply

      @bankelele thanks for the detailed discourse on what plagues KQ. Clearly things need a major shake up. I suspect your right when you say senior management and the rest of the team are no longer on the same page. If so its really hurting them big time.

  9. June 22, 2013 at 8:47 pm — Reply

    Kenya airways is indeed the pride of Africa. I say this because many Kenyans have the culture of criticizing too much instead of creating solutions. I am in the tourism and travel industry and have travelled widely and I must say, nothing makes me prouder than being Kenyan and seeing Kenya make a name across the world.

    Every time I fly Kenya airways, I see Kenya. I see a nation that against all odds has shown the African continent that there is hope. I see many young men and women who dreamt of flying planes or even serving in the air getting an opportunity to do so with our very own national carrier.

    Don’t get me wrong, I see the challenges too but I choose, unlike many Kenyans, to see them as challenges. Lets join hands as Kenyans to fix the problems we are facing without shouting to the world about them. This blog in particular is a great initiative, but in the wrong space. The Internet space is global and it’s not Kenyans who will read this but all foreigners. We open ourselves up tooooo much to foreigners to finish us.

    Yes, we see the challenges, but we also see the great strides KQ is making in resolving them. Lets engage in Kenya to fix Kenya. This overly “open discussions” are the reason why the rest of the world laughs at Africa. Ay time anyone of us is doing well, we are proud of them, any small mistake, we are the loudest to criticize.

    I plead with with you my fellow Kenyans, let us build our own, lets us protect that which is ours, lets us unite to make KQ go greater heights.

    I therefore propose that we share these sentiments with KQ marketing department via email and let’s follow up to see action. If they do not change in a reasonable time, then I am not sure loyalty can be sustained. Lets give them a chance.

    However to KQ I say, listen and listen well. Kenyans have been patient but their patience is running out. Work on a consolidation strategy and put a hold this rapid and unsustainable expansion. Consolidation strategies include improved service, value for money, market penetration, peak and off peak fares etc.

    Fix this and you will see Kenyans love you and they will lift you up.

    • June 23, 2013 at 12:47 am — Reply

      Mary, thanks for your comments and being from the KTB this is most certainly welcome in adding to the conversation. Social media allows for healthy discourse when it states the facts and does not aim to simply tarnish the subject matter. We all love and care for KQ above all else which is why people like me need to bring these challenges into the light. Many have validated my concerns as shared and what we are doing here is simply asking for important and overdue changes at KQ when other channels for dialogue seem to have failed. People will find out there are problems whether social media exists or not. Hopefully, by debating the challenges publicly, this will create the needed urgency to improve KQ.

  10. Anna Marianne
    July 23, 2013 at 1:47 pm — Reply

    Thanks for this great article Moses, I respecially like that you still pledge allegiance to KQ and still wish to fly the airline and this article is not meant to attack but correct. I, too as a Kenyan love KQ and love that we have a prescence internationally, a fete not many African airlines can lay claim too/ Living in the diaspora, i get to interract with many africans and i can tell you thay envy us having a national carrier. When in Europe catching a flight home, i cannot tell you the warm fuzzy feeling i get on seeing a KQ flight on the tarmac and seeing our Kenyan crew… But i do agree with you, KQ needs to make it easier for us Kenyans to support it. I hope this gets to the right desks in KQ. Proudly Kenyan……. When your child goes astray, you try and bring him back on course, you do not adopt another child as your own. I believe KQ will get back to their glory days. God bless Kenya!

  11. VioAnne
    June 19, 2016 at 3:12 pm — Reply

    Spot-on! Patriotism aside, KQ has made it so easy to pick the competition…rates, cabin service et-al. Last service out, a member of the cabin crew argued with a customer who moved to sit in an unoccupied row; there was no flight announcement in French despite the flight originating from 2 francophone countries; Bombay Sapphire (never heard of) vodka in a plastic bottle; and the icing on the cake was breakfast sandwich clutched in the flight attendant’s hand with serviette and teacup…no trays. As for their social media consultant, they only respond to flight delay queries and never to customer complaints. KWISHA Emirates, Ethiopian, SAA and others more than make up for not being direct flights, the main KQ advantage.

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