Consulta, a South African research group that measures customer satisfaction, happened to publish its SA Customer Satisfaction Index for airlines in the week SAA was again making headlines for all the wrong reasons, with nobody having anything nice to say about our national carrier.
The index also had only bad news for SAA. It shows that, among domestic airlines, customers rate the national carrier the worst on most aspects.
Interestingly, SAA’s low-cost airline, Mango, scored well in the report and beat some of its competitors with regards to customer satisfaction, value for money and the number of complaints by customers, as well as the handling of complaints.
Overall, FlySafair performed the best of all the airlines, scoring 78 out of a possible 100.
SAA performed the worst in all the categories measured. In addition, it scored far lower than all the other airlines. It attained an overall score of just below 69 compared to the industry average of nearly 73.
The research collected data from passengers flying on domestic flights with British Airways (Comair), FlySafair, Kulula (also owned by Comair), Mango and SAA. The survey polled 1 025 customers flying locally, with the report stating that domestic travel is the dominant segment in terms of passenger volumes.
|Airline customer satisfaction index, overall score|
One of the telling results is that customers of all airlines felt that the price they paid for tickets was not fair when looking at the quality of service provided by the airline. In short, passengers felt tickets are too expensive when considering what they got for their money.
Among the unhappy passengers, those flying with Kulula were the happiest.
Consulta notes in the report that Kulula had the smallest gap between price and quality at -0.6.
SAA performed the worst when comparing price to quality with a negative gap of 6.2 – showing that SAA customers were extremely unhappy when comparing service and price.
However, passengers still thought they got value for their money overall, with FlySafair customers thinking that their airline gave them good value for their money. FlySafair was the clear leader in terms of perceived value with a score of 83.4. Kulula and Mango were tied in second place with 78.8, while SAA was the worst at 66.7 points.
Expectations versus reality
FlySafair and Mango both performed better than their passengers had expected. Using an internationally approved statistical model, Consulta calculated a positive expectation/quality score of 5.6 for FlySafair and 0.7 for Mango.
SAA had the largest negative gap of 0.9 followed by Kulula with -0.6. This shows that customers received service of a worse quality than they expected from both airlines.
Luckily, the report notes that airlines have improved compared to five years ago. It states that scores for meeting customers’ expectations and perceived value for money have increased for all airlines, with the exception of SAA.
Customers are also more likely to recommend a particular airline to family and friends after their flights. That wasn’t the case when the same research was done in 2014, according to the researchers.
Professor Adré Schreuder, founder and chair of SAcsi, which publishes the customer satisfaction index, says it is important for airlines to deliver the best customer experience given increasing competition and tight margins in the industry.
“The airline industry is a high-volume, low-margin industry where customer satisfaction and experiences are crucial factors in airline sustainability. In the face of calls for privatisation and removal of political interference, SAA has a monumental task to prove that it can meet customer needs and return to profitability,” says Schreuder.
In fact, his research shows that all the domestic airlines fall far short when looking at the number of complaints and the manner in which complaints are handled. Nearly 5% of passengers coming off a British Airways or Mango flight indicated to the research team that they had complaints.
Passengers stepping off SAA planes had the most complaints. How many of these passengers filed official complaints was not followed up.
Red flags for airlines
Schreuder describes the high number of complaints – which are largely not resolved – as a red flag for airlines. “Airlines need to review their incidence of complaints, as well as the complaint handling process and resolution,” he says.
His research shows that Kulula performed poorly on complaint handling and resolution, resolving less than 34% of complaints satisfactorily. SAA resolved nearly 43% of its complaints, with British Airways performing the best and resolving nearly 70% of complaints.
“When you consider that two-thirds of Kulula complaints and more than half of SAA complaints are not handled to a satisfactory level for customers, it will have a direct and very negative impact on overall customer satisfaction and loyalty,” says Schreuder.
“Passengers don’t simply buy a ticket, they purchase a travel experience. Improving that experience, from booking and checking in, through security to baggage handling and collection, all form part of customer satisfaction,” says Schreuder.
Consulta says that measuring customer satisfaction is a strategic tool for gauging the competitiveness of individual firms and is important in predicting future profitability as it provides an indication of how well the firm will perform in terms of future revenue and earnings.
The report did not say how the strike at SAA might impact on customer perceptions or try to predict its future.