Few people would disagree that Japan sets the benchmark when it comes to service excellence. The Japanese are known for being very hospitable, while at the same time aiming to do more than their best, whatever the situation, a trait called “Ganbaru.”
Ganbaru epitomizes Japan Airlines. Flying to 280 destinations in 45 countries and regions with its codeshare partners, JAL is one of Asia’s largest airlines, operating more than 220 aircraft. Yet just five years ago, the airline was on the verge of corporate collapse, when it filed for bankruptcy in January 2010 to restructure its debt and slash costs after years of fiscal deficits. The ganbaru of its dedicated employees, coupled with a loyal customer base and redevelopment strategies, saw the company surprise many by making a modest market return in less than three years. It was re-listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in September 2012.
“There are two key points that the past few years have taught us,” Yasuhisa Ikeda, Regional Manager of JAL Hong Kong explained. “Our new strategy is refining our ‘JAL Philosophy’ to reinforce understanding across all divisions in the company. This is to ensure all staff work together to achieve the company’s goals.”
The airline has also introduced a profitability management system for each division. “We encourage all employees to practice profitable management. They can clarify their responsibilities, ask about revenues and expenses by divisions, etc, which enhances commitment, productivity and more effective use of resources,” he added.
Since its rebirth, JAL constantly looks for ways to improve efficiency and services, as well as carefully tracks and sets new goals. In particular, the airline has set its sights on achieving “Customer Satisfaction No. 1” by 2016, as the world’s most preferred airline on the foundation of flight safety.
“We place a great deal of emphasis on staff development to equip them with the skills to provide flight safety, excellent customer service, language and empathy skills,” said Ikeda. “We also have an internal as well as external evaluation system to identify customers’ needs and expectations, which allows us to provide them with a fresh and enjoyable travel experience every time they fly with us.”
Business travel is a key income generator for airlines. To meet business travelers’ demands, JAL has upgraded its business class offerings and increased its “Sky Suite” fleet, which was named the “Best Business Class Airline Seat” by Skytrax in 2013. “Our fleet is retrofitted with seats that extended into a completely flat bed with extra legroom,” he explained.
The jury is still out on whether Wi-Fi is a good idea on planes, as it is the only time business people can escape from their emails, but JAL took the plunge in 2012 to offer onboard high-speed Wi-Fi. It also cooperated with a Japanese telecoms company to offer JAL passengers free Wi-Fi across the country during their stay in Japan.
More passengers, yet more competition
More people are travelling today than at any time in human history. Despite more customers, there is also more competition. Traditional, full-service airlines are upping their offerings to attract passengers. Although full-service airlines are competing for a different clientele from low-cost carriers, Ikeda believes as more people try budget airlines, they could affect full-service airlines. However, he is confident that JAL can overcome the situation by providing customers with new and innovative products and services under the banner “Embrace new challenges JAL.”
“It is always important to differentiate your company from other companies, and airlines are no different. JAL targets passengers who demand high-quality, full service and are prepared to pay for that standard of excellence,” he said.
Ikeda is confident more people will travel to Japan flying JAL, as the weak Japanese Yen conversion and active sales promotions are providing a strong boost to the country’s tourism industry.
“The Asia region is our fastest growing market, followed by the North America-Asia, with 2.8 million travelers making a stopover on this route annually,” he said.
JAL is a member of One World Alliance, which provides a broad network around the world. JAL’s growth in the Pacific route is partly due to its cooperation with American Airlines which allows travelers from Hong Kong and the Mainland to fly to North America via Japan with a same-day connection.
Ikeda said JAL, which celebrates its 60th anniversary of direct flights between Japan and Hong Kong this year, maintains profitability management while moving forward where there is demand, opportunities and new markets.
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