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The customer is king

Air travel is a very competitive marketplace. We see ourselves as operating in the middle of the market: we want to be a low-cost airline giving passengers exactly what they want, but with the added benefit of having great customer service. We don’t claim to be like BA or Emirates, but we don’t want to be a no-frills airline because we know we’re more than that.


So to make ourselves different we decided to let passengers build their flights. There are options to pick extra legroom, and you can pay by PayPal or bank transfer so there are no booking fees. We also have an Advantage Club and ask a core group of members why they fly with us when there are so many other operators offering a similar service – what is the Monarch difference? We want to develop this and have passengers share their experience, tell us if they want a different menu or different products on offer, or if they would like to be able to see the products online before they board, for example.


We are listening to their views very carefully. For example, we offer an onboard meal service – not everyone’s taste is the same, but they all like the fact that they have a meal. We now also give people the option to buy a meal before they get on – these are traditional charter meals but a little larger. There are also snacks on board so we give them the same café culture they expect if they travel by train nowadays.


We also want to make Monarch more recognisable brand in UK and abroad. We want to give staff bright colours and branding, such as scarves and name badges so people can identify them. Passengers want communication and this helps.


For charter services, which we have been running since 1993, a football team or company can charter a plane. We recently had the crew from the new James Bond movie, and the staff were very jealous of the crew involved in that. Also, a group of Australian businesspeople charter an aircraft every year and do a round the world trip. They get a first-class experience and enjoy getting to know the crew onboard. The crew also enjoy the stopovers in Sydney and Easter Island. We also get charters from Champions League and UEFA Cup, and they’re not all that rowdy (alright, they are!)


The key to good service
I want to achieve consistent customer service. It’s not good enough to just be good any more, you have to be outstanding. This is why I have flown all our routes and earned the nickname ‘Dora the Explorer’.


With much of an air fare being made up of tax and charges and many airlines going into administration, how should Monarch position itself? Is it a dangerous area in the middle? It is a tough position to be in, but it is an achievable position. We offer excellent customer service and are told that by customers. They tell us they like our routes, and we take feedback from Twitter and Facebook. Many airlines are very stuck in a position of ‘this is what we have so this is what you get.’ We welcome feedback and use it. One airline, which will remain nameless, doesn’t have any customer complaints – because it doesn’t accept customer complaints! We get complaints but most are fixable and we can change. It is a tough place to be, and we have to keep our prices and routes competitive. If we get that right, we’ll get more passengers.

So how do we manage complaints? We have a team of people who monitor complaints and the turnaround time for response. We have to investigate a lot of the time though – it’s not simply a letter, or as they say ‘it’s easy to say sorry on the back of a cheque’. We can’t just reimburse everyone. For example, with weather-related disruption, we just ask if we did the best we could do. We have a letter writer who goes through everything every week, but I myself now phone people and say ‘I need to learn how to do better, what would you have done?’ Some of these people have now volunteered for focus groups. People are shocked when I phone though – they say, ‘why are you calling’, but they did complain!


The airline industry used to have lots of mystery shoppers, and I myself was once handed a letter after a flight saying we’d been ‘shopped’ [Kane was previously a member of cabin crew]. Mystery shopping became routine and has been cut back on, but we use our Vantage customers and friends and family to get feedback. We sometimes offer a free service to try out a route. I know our managing director Kevin George is treated like royalty when he flies, and everything is perfect, and we want that level consistently, so you can get any Monarch flight and get exactly the same level of customer service. We have found that some bases (Birmingham, Manchester, Gatwick and Luton) are better than others and we have addressed that. In the future we will introduce much more regular mystery shoppers.


I expect a friendly and professional service and for people to know what they’ll get. It must be special and different and make the journey seem more appealing. There are other airlines to choose from but we want people to choose us. The staff training we provide is excellent and our people are absolutely committed to customer service. We also have to differentiate between product on board, and we have a good relationship with Alpha, who does our catering. We need quality and strategy. It’s all very well having retail on board, but is has to be what the customers want. It’s not even just having the best products, it’s having what people want. For example, one of our biggest sellers is PG Tips tea because people want a British cup of tea. That won’t be the same for every airline, but it’s what works for us. We are also training cabin staff to have a good knowledge of the product on board.


I don’t think there’s any clever way to increase passenger spend. I think it’s about getting the right products on board that people want to buy. You can have 15 products, but if the customers don’t want them they won’t sell. We look at trends in the market, we fly with other airlines, and we listen to passengers, but the best feedback is from the crew as they’re the ones out there selling. If they say something doesn’t work, they’re generally right.

In terms of the cabin environment, we have aircraft that have been around for quite a while so we want to revamp them and make them look fresh, clean and like a brand-new aircraft. The main things our passengers want are a good seat pitch and a fresh seat cover, and a generally clean cabin. They also like the captain to look clean and fresh.


The next stage of the journey
Negating carbon emissions means we have to look at weight restrictions and cabin baggage. We have problems with performance as people think they can come on board with 15 bags and a cat. We also have to look internally. We gave our crew lightweight bags (4kg) to take onboard, and since we don’t do so many overnight stops now they often don’t even take the bag, and that helps. We also have a Weight Management Team, made up of directors and all types of staff, who meet every Friday to look at ways to cut weight.

Another big development is Wi-Fi. It’s still in the theory stage but it’s coming. It gives people the chance to work so they don’t have to wait until they get to their destination. It’s good for kids too. We have asked what people want, and Wi-Fi is popular.


18 June 2012


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