Where's Geoff? (Dixon, CEO, Qantas)
(This post is about my experience trying to get an answer from Mr Geoff Dixon, CEO of Qantas. I am asking him if he has flown economy lately and endured the 'torture' Qantas - and most other airlines - inflicts on its customers because 'economy is economy'. I have included the string of correspondence leading to this email. Start reading from the bottom, to get the full story.)
“We’re not going to answer your questions,” said a pleasant voice on the telephone. It was Marianne Hedl, Executive Communications, Customer Care Executive, Qantas Airways Limited. Marianne read to me a section of their procedures manual that described how all complaints were reported ‘high up’ in the organisation – to the Board, no less – in aggregated form. The same day I got this one line email from Malcolm, a friend and ex-colleague: “May I ask what sort of response you were expecting?” I’ll tell you a story. I once wrote a lot of letters to companies , suggesting ways they could improve their marketing and advertising, hoping to get noticed and break into advertising. One afternoon the telephone rang and it was Brian Walsh, the managing director of David Jones. He made it “there’s no other store like David Jones”. I asked him did he respond to many letters. “All of them” was his reply. He also insisted that his management team spend time every Friday behind a cash register. He could identify a DJ’s shopper at 500 paces. It was not long after this that Waters & Peterman made “Management By Walking Around” a watchword. The book they wrote was In Search of Excellence. David Jones was an excellent company. Is excellence a relic of the 80s? Geoff, Google “Qantas Sucks”. Your customers and your staff are talking about you. “Where’s Geoff?” they wonder.
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS – A THOUGHT-A-DAY EMAIL
The Qantas Poll currently stands at 10% "Unreasonable" 85% "Go Get 'Em". (5% "WHat's happening?") So, continuing the lessons learned from this exercise (It's like a field trip into Customer Experience Land, isn't it?) Big Company had an opportunity to identify a case of "complaint" that required individual attention, to engage the customer and give them the sort of response they expected, and failed. Now the problem escalates, and leaks into the blogosphere where it becomes a permanent part of the online brandscape, accessible easily via Google. If they mishandle their response to this phase, the result in many cases could become a "www.F---Qantas.com" of "www.QantasSucks.com" site of the type attracted by McDonalds and other multinationals. (Lesson: Make sure your company has bought every combination of URL of this type to block their use by feral activists and disgruntled customers. DO you think Qantas owns QantasSucks.com? Go check it out.) The overall lesson of this excursion has been the importance of managing expectations. In the US they warn you "It's gonna be soooooo bad..." before you get on the plane that you're pleasantly surprised that the hostesses don't spit at you when you're boarding...
Geoff, if you're reading this, it's not personal. We're just observing your company's behaviour, like entimologists would. (From the point of view of the insects.)
DUDE, ECONOMY IS ECONOMY – A THOUGHT-A-DAY EMAIL
Jay, one of your fellow Thought-A-Day recipients, replied that he thinks I am being unreasonably hard on Qantas. You might think so too. Here was my response to Jay's note:
You are so right, Jay. I am being unreasonable. When we paid a pittance for our tickets we knew what we were in for. But the collective sense of misery in that cabin was something to behold. Toyota would never inflict it on customers, even on the most economy of economy buyers. It’s not in their nature. Ford's marketing staff used to have their cars serviced at the factory in Campbellfield. They never entered a dealership as a customer, so they didn’t know how bad things were. Holly Kramer changed that when she was Director of Marketing, and consciousness of the customer experience started to seep into the corporation. Even Qantas flight crew fly business class when relocating for a shift. I guess what started as a bit of a joke has developed into a demonstration of how a fine corporation can act like a machine from the customer’s point of view. I think it also demonstrates how dangerous it is to ignore the danger signals. I told the company I was sharing their response with you and the list of 450 readers, as well as the world via my blog. They obviously did not read my note. We live in a viral world; a dangerous world for service companies. I am waiting for Qantas to react in a human way, with or without Geoff.
Am I being unreasonably unreasonable?
I RESPOND FORMALLY TO QANTAS
Customer Care Executive
Qantas Airways Limited
Thank you for your reply, attached below. Did Geoff see my note? Can you ask him these questions for me?
1. Does he reply personally to any customer communications addressed to him?
2. Has he heard the old story about the cockroach letter?
3. Do all customers complaining of the same issue receive the same letter?
4. How long has it been since he flew economy class? (10 years? 20 years?)
5. Does he ever eat the food served in economy?
6. Does he have to play 'elbow scrummaging for the arm rest'?
7. How can narrower seats be more comfortable? (Is Geoff a fan of Monty Python?)
8. Will the refurbished aircraft feature more legroom? (1cm? 2cms?)
9. How does Qantas decide how much space there will be for the economy class passenger? Does each technician sliding the seats closer together wear an executioner's hood?
PS. "The cockroach letter" is an old story about a man who had encountered a cockroach in his hotel room. He wrote a letter to the management and received what he felt was a thoughtful reply that strongly stated their regrets and determination to address the problem. Then he noticed a memo in the envelope. It said, “Send this pain in the ass the cockroach letter.”
QANTAS RESPONDS OFFICIALLY TO MY EMAIL
Remember my inflight letter to the CEO of Qantas? (Attached below.) Well I sent it to him, telling him I had sent it to you and blogged it... and this is what I got in reply:
Ref No: MH/93051893
08 November 2006
Dear Mr Kiely
Thank you for taking the time to write to Geoff Dixon, Qantas’ Chief
Executive Officer. I have been asked to respond on Mr Dixon’s behalf.
I was disappointed to learn about your recent encounter with Qantas.
We strive to offer our customers a comfortable and enjoyable inflight
experience. I am sorry that this was not your experience on your recent
We have recently refurbished our aircraft with improved seating. This has
increased the space between the rows, and the ergonomic design of the seats
enables them to mould around you to make your journey more comfortable.
Although the seats are slimmer, the design offers the same width as before
and our legroom still compares well with other major airlines.
Qantas is committed to acting on what our customers tell us, and we closely
monitor customer feedback. We run a continuous improvement program, which
uses customer feedback to help resolve and improve our product and service.
I appreciate you taking the time to write. I hope we have an opportunity to
welcome you aboard Qantas in the near future.
Customer Care Executive
Qantas Airways Limited
LESSON: Qantas customer complaint strategy: 1. Don't respond yourself. Flick the task to a functionary so there's nothing personal in the interaction. 2. Don't admit fault. 3. Dismiss the issue in a couple of lines, then spend the rest of the letter celebrating the joys of using your product.
Geoff. Remember the comedy routine that has the punch line "Send them the cockroach letter"? I think I just got one.
MY RESPONSE WARNING THEM IT WAS LEAKING INTO THE BLOGOSPHERE
------ Forwarded Message
From: Michael Kiely
Date: Wed, 01 Nov 2006 20:51:47 +1100
Subject: Re: About Qantas - Our Company/3767862
BTW I blogged it on http://michaelkielymarketing.blogspot.com
On 1/11/06 2:28 PM, "firstname.lastname@example.org" wrote:
THE INITIAL RESPONSE FROM QANTAS TO MY EMAIL
> Dear Mr Kiely,
> Thank you for your correspondence.
> I have forwarded your email ont Customer Care for their attention.
> Qantas Websupport
cc: 01/11/2006 01:29 Subject: About Qantas - Our
Please respond to
> Reference number: 061101-000171
> E-mail submitted by Mr michael Kiely on Wed 1 November 2006, 12:29 (AEST)
> Region of Residence: Australia
> State: NSW
> Phone: 0294846761
> E-mail: email@example.com
> Frequent Flyer Number: 3767862
> Category: About Qantas
> Sub-Category: Our Company
> I sent the following under the title "Qantas tortures its passengers" to my
> regular email newsletter list of 450 marketing executives, and many of them
> asked me "What did he say?" So I am sending it to Geoff to give him the
> opportunity to respond.
> Mr Geoff Dixon
> Chief Executive Officer
> Qantas Airways
> Dear Sir,
> Have you flown your own airline economy class to an overseas destination
> lately? I can’t believe you have. No sane person would knowingly subject
> fellow human beings to such discomfort. Only the rich and the footsoldiers
> of the rich can afford comfortable air travel today. Forget the toxic food
> and queues for the toilets. I can live with that. It’s space I need. As I
> sit here on QF129 to LA (13 hours) I cant open my laptop far enough to see
> the screen and type.
> I know who decides how much space I have. You. Because you set the revenue
> targets and they determine how many rows of seats you put in each aircraft
> and therefore how little space is available to the passenger in each seat.
> I can see those little rubber strips on the floor covering the train tracks
> you slide the seats along. How do you determine how much space to allow
> between seats? Measure out how much a normal human being would require for
> a comfortable experience, and then shove it back far enough to guarantee no
> sitting position is painless? If the aim is to cause sufficient pain that
> you force us into business class for a fat margin, I can help you there.
> Why not hire some really hard bastards with big sticks to whack economy
> class passengers on the head until we agree to pay for an upgrade? This is
> only slightly more ridiculous than what you do to us already.
> Michael Kiely
> www.michaelkielymarketing.com.au> 0417 280 540
> Http User Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; U; PPC Mac OS X; en)
> AppleWebKit/418 (KHTML, like Gecko) Safari/417.9.2
THE ORIGINAL ‘THOUGHT-A-DAY’ EMAIL
My apologies for missing yesterday. I lost a day (and my mind) over the Pacific flying to the USA for a study tour of the carbon credits market, a special interest of mine. As I am paying my own way, we flew cattle class which inspired today's "marketing thought".
Have you flown your own airline economy class to an overseas destination laytely? I can’t believe you have. No sane person would knowingly subject fellow human beings to such discomfort. Only the rich and the footsoldiers of the rich can afford comfortable air travel today. Forget the toxic food and queues for the toilets. I can live with that. It’s space I need. As I sit here on QF129 to LA (13 hours) I cant open my laptop far enough to see the screen and type.
I know who decides how much space I have. You. Because you set the revenue targets and they determine how many rows of seats you put in each aircraft and therefore how little space is available to the passenger in each seat. I can see those little rubber strips on the floor covering the train tracks you slide the seats along. How do you determine how much space to allow between seats? Measure out how much a normal human being would require for a comfortable experience, and then shove it back far enough to guarantee no sitting position is painless? If the aim is to cause sufficient pain that you force us into business class for a fat margin, I can help you there. Why not hire some really hard bastards with big sticks to whack economy class passengers on the head until we agree to pay for an upgrade? This is only slightly more ridiculous than what you do to us already.