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Rob Fyfe: The value of unfiltered feedback

Divina Paredes | Oct. 11, 2013
Former Air New Zealand CEO Rob Fyfe talks about ways to foster a customer-centric culture - from answering the most difficult customer complaints, to working the night shift to get first-hand account of what is happening in the organisation.

"The people who interface with the customers are the ones that are going to have the biggest impact to our customers," he says. "These people need to be supported throughout the organisation."

"When the door of an aircraft closes and the flight takes off, it is a bit like the rugby team running onto the field.

"What happens to your team in the field is up to the team or players and how they draw from what you have instilled in them. They are not going to give me a call and ask how to deal with any of those situations."

Taking a stand
He recalls another "colourful" email that contained a lot of unsavoury words that required being abbreviated into 'effing' when he read it.

Fyfe responded to the sender, saying "it embarrasses me that someone purporting to be a fellow New Zealander would engage with anyone in such a fashion."

He says after the series of exchanges, where he also explained the airline's side on the issues raised, the passenger became a "surprisingly loyal customer" and sent him regular feedback on how great his experiences were on Air New Zealand.

The adage in the service industry is that the customer is always right, says Fyfe. But "when you engage with people on this notion of 'welcoming everyone as a friend', to some degree it cuts both ways".

"If people are going to be either physically or verbally or emotionally abusive of our staff, they need to know that in our culture and our organisation, that's not acceptable. And I've got tremendous feedback from employees for the fact that we were prepared to take a stand," says Fyfe.

Two or three times a year, he says, "we'd divorce one of our customers, but you don't want to do it too often".

Online tools a double-edged sword
Ian Clarke, CEO of Fronde, says the same tools that help improve the customer experience are also available to the competition, so these are not the ones that make the difference to the public.

In fact, he says, some of the tools — Internet, social networks and mobile — "can be rapidly turned against you by disgruntled clients, increasing the impact poor customer experience can have on your business."

At the same time, customers use these online tools to get very detailed and immediate comparison to offerings and pricing across competing companies.

"The really competitive position your business can rely on is what your brand stands for and how you deliver on that promise," says Clarke, echoing Rob Fyfe's message on forging a customer-centric culture.


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