When being people-focused fails
by Ali Carmichael, Managing Director and Owner

When being people-focused fails

“We make sure people are at the heart of everything we do”. This is Qantas’ claim on their Cabin Crew recruitment page. And so they should. Qantas’ in-flight customer experience is exceptional, because it focuses on the passenger, whatever seat they occupy. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much (regardless of the sector) to find bemoaning customers. People are more vocal with complaints than with compliments, and the travel sector is particularly prone. 

Ill feeling is easy to spread 

For Qantas, the ill feeling points to the lack of being able to find anyone to talk to. Customers are receiving shoddy, last-minute communications, and are then unable to speak to anyone unless willing to sit on hold for many hours. When you do get through, you’ll likely be cut off.  

I didn’t set out to pick on Qantas, but listening to the Monocle on Sunday radio show at the beginning of July I heard about lost luggage, poor handling of staff in the pandemic, a complete lack of customer service, and the MD seen having a business jolly in Rome. 

Negative sentiment can arise at any customer (or employee) touchpoint of a business and risks tarnishing the whole service offering. Improving customer experience in reaction to poor reviews is an obvious move but does not resolve the risk over the longer term.  

Attempts to improve 

Following losses in 2013, Qantas invested in technology to improve customer experience. Business improved and investors were happy. Then, in the summer of 2019, Qantas invested $25 million in a customer loyalty overhaul 

There is no denying the effort (and budget) being spent by Qantas on trying to improve the customer experience, and this should be applauded. But simply throwing money at projects, whilst certainly improves experience (customers named Qantas the most trusted large company) and business short term, is not enough to magically result in an organisation being truly customer-centric, and issues are likely to loop back around eventually. 

During the pandemic, 15,000 Qantas workers were laid off without pay or forced to take leave in mid-2020, while another 2,500 were stood down in August 2021 – despite the airline receiving $2billion in government aid. 

Now, let’s not forget that the travel sector has been affected massively from Covid-19, and Australia’s borders were pretty much shut for 2 years. However, Qantas is a huge market leading company, and they have clearly invested heavily in customer experience activity.  

Can organisations be truly customer-centric? 

To be customer-centric beyond a specific project or marketing campaign requires a bigger leap. If we are to truly run our businesses with the customer as our priority, we need to reach higher and be human-centric from the very heart and soul of our organisation.  

If you walk into a Tesla showroom, apparently you shouldn’t be sold to. Instead, the focus is for you to look forward to your next visit, whether you are buying or not. Isn’t that nice? 

Customer experience, which includes the experience of all people who engage with, or are affected by, our brand, products, service, or proposition, is only attainable if an organisation’s culture is genuinely empathetic and compassionate for all people.  

What can we do today? 

Until then, and keeping practical, this will happen project by project. The work being undertaken, for example, on your digital channels, with user research, usability testing, and user-centred design can be a catalyst.  

  • What other customer touchpoints in your organisation might need some customer experience love?  
  • What can you do with your UX projects to share what you are doing with those departments, and the value of looking back through the eyes of your audience?  

By being aware of all the customer touchpoints, and sharing the human-focused work you and your colleagues are doing far and wide within your organisation, will have a positive impact. Sometimes this might be slow, but you are never aware of the positive influence you have over other people.  

For Qantas, again, I didn’t set out to focus this on the airline, but “We make sure people are at the heart of everything we do” must now be the mantra across the whole business, not just for the cabin crew.

UX Consultant Emma Peters

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