SAA rots from the head


Welcome to my blog, where I’ll be sharing a few thoughts regarding the customer experience and companies’ ability or inability to deliver it.

I’ll open with a look at our national airline. The title of Bob Garratt’s book, “The Fish Rots From the Head”, is so applicable in this instance. Hurray, hopefully with Khaya Ngqula out of the way SAA might be able to rebuild itself into an airline that CAN compete globally. Hopefully, as passengers, we may be subjected to an appropriate level of ‘consistent’ service that builds some form of loyalty to the brand. 

I don’t know Ngqula! He had 3 or 4 opportunities to get to know me as a paying passenger, if he so chose. I had stood in a check-in queue with him at Heathrow a couple of times and had sat across the aisle from him on a Cape Town/Johannesburg flight. What surprised me was the obvious unwillingness/lack of interest in engaging with anything that resembles a ‘passenger’.

My impression of him as a ‘mediocre manager’ rather than a ‘leader of people’ had already been formed by the time I flew on the same plane as him from Cape Town. What I found so incredible on this particular flight (2pm departure time) was his total disregard of both passengers and staff, unless he had a hidden and clandestine method of communicating and motivating staff. In addition, 2pm remains part of the working day. I would assume, considering his position, that he should have been leading by example rather than sitting back enjoying the world-class cuisine served on our domestic flights. It’s a well known fact that Richard Branson, of Virgin fame, moves around his aircraft engaging passengers and gathering feedback that can be put to good use. Heaven forbid Mr Ngqula should have played such a demeaning role and engaged with passengers in an attempt to gather feedback and ‘learn’ of peoples’ expectations and wishes.Much easier, I guess, to employ consultants (at significant cost0 to do this dirty work! 

SAA has regularly stated, in various forms, that it’s goal is to provide superior customer service and customer experience. It strives to inspire customers with African hospitality in every detail, every time. It recognises that ‘commitment’ to passengers is key to the brand and SAA strives to get it right, first time, every time.

The fact of the matter is simple.  To instil meaningful customer management principles represents a fundamental change for any organisation. To benefit from these changes the executive must be on the field, playing the game. They cannot observe this change from the sidelines. Initiatives supporting this change must be firmly rooted in the organisational goals and must be supported by specific success metrics.

There was no way SAA was going to consistently improve in the area of customer experience with Nqgula at the helm. (I say consistently because I have enjoyed some wonderful experiences on some international SAA flights; BUT, you can never get onto a flight comfortable and confident that the experience will be repeated. It is so random! It is totally dependent on the crew!) He just wasn’t the guy that was capable of operationalising a business to compete in the area of customer experience. He just wasn’t the guy to ‘roll up his sleeves’ and lead by example. He is just another example of mediocre management. And, the only good thing about mediocrity is the fact that you’re ALWAYS at your best.