Air Transport World

Staffing shortage. (airline customer service training falls short)

Delivering an integrated service product begins with superior customer-service training. Most airlines don't have it

Ask any airline CEO to identify t the most important competitive advantage in the marketplace and that individual is likely to respond with: "Customer service." Unfortunately, airlines get a failing grade when the subject is training their people to compete in this environment. And as long as this remains so, none will be able to develop the edge necessary to break away from the pack.

Furthermore, growing use of part-time, temporary and contract employees could undermine airline efforts to deliver a high-quality service product and certainly presents unique training challenges.

Who says? Airlines themselves, via their responses to a detailed survey on airline training practices at 11 of the 25 largest carriers conducted by Andersen Consulting, the $3.4 billion global management and consulting organization. Tony Clancy, a partner in Andersen's Change Management practice and a coauthor of the study, says the survey reveals that although airlines state that customer service is their most important tool, none behaves as though this is really true.

Clancy explains to ATW: "I think the carriers think the cost battle is being won. The issue right now is two-fold: How do we increase revenues and how do we differentiate ourselves? And they all come to the same conclusion: Customer service--the uniqueness of their product in the marketplace--is how they are going to differentiate themselves.

"You listen to that and you nod your head and say: 'That's really wonderful. Now, what are you doing about it?' And we come to two conclusions: They are all pretty much doing the same thing, which means unless they have a unique strategy--which they don't--then, it's an execution issue: Who can outexecute the other one.

"But you look at customer service training and what they're investing, and management just doesn't have a clue what it's going to take to be competitive .... They're not investing enough in looking at who their customers are and they are certainly not investing enough in their people so as to differentiate themselves from their competitors."

The report details a litany of problems with customer-service training. Methods are outdated. Airlines eschew sophisticated computer-based-training and simulators in favor of traditional classroom instruction. Employees are overwhelmed by too much information provided during initial training, while recurrent training is limited and rarely related to service offerings. …

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