Over the past couple of years we have been witnessing the demise of the Qantas brand, with its business strategy dictating the brand’s terms of engagement. Every public gesture that the business has made, has reflected an unwavering commitment to taking cost out of its operations. There has been scant regard for the brand or the customer.
The Qantas world has been one of automating, offshoring and outsourcing. And when it suited them straight our brand transferring by substituting Qantas routes with their low cost operator, Jetstar. This has manifested itself in a recent downsizing of Australian employees by 1,000, a new international carrier brand being established in Asia and then this week a win over the union as a result of Fair Work Australia approving the employment of lower paid pilots through Qantas overseas subsidiary Jetconnect.
To counter the potential fall out of all this, Qantas has also been running a campaign in the media to spin a yarn along line of ‘the spirit of Australia, getting into fighting condition to take on the world.’ Unfortunately, for many customers, its focus for so long has been about the business and not brand relationships. Worse it seems that with the on going pursuit of cost cutting it is also cutting the guts out of the culture of Qantas. When you are positioned as the ‘Spirit of Australia’ you need an organisation with people who feel passionate and dare I say ‘spirited’ about the brand. Certainly having a fully engaged Australian pilot at the front of the plane, was a good starting point – perhaps now a brand attribute of the past.
From a branding perspective the move by brands to increasingly automate customer contacts is also an interesting one. Qantas desire to essentially have no personal contact with passengers until they board their flight has some obvious advantages. It shifts steps of the value chain directly to the customer and thereby reduces costs. Some customers enjoy being directly in control and in many instances it removes queuing for them. But it also means that the brand is walking away from an opportunity to engage passengers at a personal level. The experience simply becomes a transaction (albeit efficient) and not as relationship charged as a face to face exchange has the potential of delivering.
The lesson for all service brands is that if you keep taking out steps that have some form of personal engagement, you lower the emotional connection that customers have with the brand. Brand’s need to continue to consciously ask themselves, how are they fueling an emotional and more personal relationship with customers? What are they doing to substitute for automation steps that make them more remote? The more you make it like a functional transaction the easier you make it for customers to leave, if a competitor does it better functionally.
Qantas as a brand has always drawn heavily on emotional cues – unfortunately these are fast being eroded.