Air New Zealand best airline in the world again

23 November 2015
Air New Zealand best airline in the world again
Air New Zealand played to an inherent competitive brand strength that none of their competitors or marketing strategy's could replicate: the Kiwi experience.

A tiny country at the bottom of the world (depending on which way you look at it) has shown the aviation industry for the second time in three years that their airline is the best flying the skies.

In fact Air New Zealand has won more Air Transport World’s Airline of the Year awards in the last decade than any other airline. So how did a small Kiwi airline become the best airline in the world? By implementing a plan that focused on three core strategies:

People and employee engagement
Industry innovation
Delivering the kiwi brand experience

1. People and Employees
Previously Air New Zealand’s thinking was that their most valuable assets were their planes, however a huge mind-shift has resulted in them recognising the value of ‘people,’ i.e. both the external and internal customer. CEO Rob Fyfe says

The airline industry is volatile and we believe the agility of our people to adapt and adjust our business to changing customer expectations, new competitors and uncertain economic conditions has enabled Air New Zealand to outperform most of our peers both financially and in terms of the genuine service we deliver

All this makes perfect sense considering the results of a survey conducted by American Express in 2011.

American Express’ Global Customer Service Barometer found that business are failing to satisfy their customers and in an economic climate where consumers have less disposable income but more purchasing power than ever it’s time for brands realize there’s gold in them thar customer relationships.

In a classic cart before the horse scenario, a brand can’t deliver a fantastic customer relationship experience if the staff are not fully engaged and happy in their jobs.

So this is a job for the internal brand team and it seems they’ve been working over time to understand their employees and making connections between personal values and behaviours and brand delivery expectations. It appears Air New Zealand have bought 100% into the old truism; if employees are engaged and happy, so too are customers.

2. Industry Innovation
In-between juggling hefty capital investments, fluctuating fuel costs and debt loads, aviation industry margins are damn tight. Hell even, investment genius Warren Buffett thought airlines were a bad bet

How do you become a millionaire? Make a billion dollars and then buy an airline.

Innovation in any industry plays a major part in any successful brand strategy as it helps to:

A. make the business flexible

B. create a point of difference

C. reduce operational costs

With that in mind, Air New Zealand decided it was better to innovate than die, so they tackled two of the biggest pains in the backside when it came to flying:

1. Check-in – by introducing new self check-in kiosks and gate scanners the check-in process has been cut from 10-15 to 1-3 minutes

2. Uncomfortable seats – many airlines have made incremental changes to premium cabins over the years, but in doing so have neglected economy class.

Air New Zealand’s award winning Skycouch bridges the gap between providing a ‘lie down’ experience without the cost of upgrading to premium class.

3. Delivering the Kiwi experience
Scenario time. You have a fantastic product, you have a receptive market, but you also have competitors that have the same planes, fly the same routes and have pretty similar price points. How do you ensure your product is preferred to that of the competitors? Hint: the answer lays within.

Air New Zealand played to an inherent competitive strength that none of their competitors or their marketing strategy’s could replicate: the Kiwi experience.

Being able to deliver a 360 degree Kiwi brand experience – whether flying high or in the call centre – was crucial to delivering an ownable point of difference. Which brings us back to people, without the buy-in from staff, fulfilling this inherent competitive advantage would simply not be possible.

Where are the gaps?
Sure it’s easy to be complacent when you’re sitting at the top of the world. But isn’t that when businesses become the easiest target to be knocked from their perch.

So what should Air New Zealand be doing next?

Global Brand vs Regional Brand
While Air New Zealand has a global presence is their brand and core proposition as robust offshore as it is here in New Zealand?

Is there a need to differentiate an international strategy from the New Zealand one?

Strategic Recruitment
Air New Zealand must continue to invest in recruiting and retaining staff. Which is in its self an expensive exercise.

By all accounts Air New Zealand receives more than 50,000 job applicants every year. But the question needs to be asked, what percent of these applicants are top of their field? Do they need to be more strategic in order to attract the best in class, e.g.

Continue to develop the employee brand with a focus on using social media
Update the careers website
Redirect resources to actively pursue candidates
Develop a hyper-targeted smart campaign that separates the good from the very good