Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hearing Footsteps

NFL receivers who drop passes and NHL skaters who fail to hold on to the puck are often said to be "hearing footsteps".

"Hearing footsteps" happens when you feel a defender closing in and instant panic sets in; causing you to fumble the pigskin or cough up the biscuit.

That being said, is Air Canada "hearing footsteps" in the aviation arena?

Last week, TSB could not help but notice this headline in the Globe and Mail:


The story went on to indicate Air Canada's chief operating officer Bill Bredt will be delivering cross-country pep talks urging staff to improve customer service amid competitive threats and the recession. The nations largest airline has noticed Calgary-based WestJet held 36 per cent of domestic market share last fall - compared with Air Canada's 57 per cent - and has been making steady gains in recent years. Under the leadership of Sean Durfy, WestJet is striving to capture 45 to 50 per cent of Canadian seat capacity within five years.

Air Canada CEO Montie Brewer has responded by sending out a three-page memo to employees, stating,"The most important factor in determining our future success is customer service. This will be the battleground this year and in the years ahead. We have a superior product and fuller network and now we need to ensure that we give each customer caring, friendly service consistently — in all areas — in call centres, at the airport, in flight and dealing with any follow-up issues — to ensure that Air Canada customers remain Air Canada customers".

Montie's memo could not have come at a better time considering what TSB discovered this morning from a blogger at

I actually witnessed a scene at the Moncton airport within 20 minutes of each other with friends (2 couples who I had driven to the aiport) who had mistakenly booked flights on Westjet and Air Canada (early morning flights to Toronto). It wasn't a weather issue however, but rather a confusion one due to overbooking! To make a long story short, the Westjet couple made it to their destination, while the AC couple were 3 days behind! Can you believe it? Going on an 8 day vacation and 3 days were spent messing around with inconsiderate and rude AC people! Believe me, these people like myself, have vowed to avoid AC as much as we can! We are so hopeful Westjet adds more and more routes until it finally becomes the #1 airline as they definitely know the true meaning of service!

Regretfully for Montie Brewer, Air Canada’s lack of genuine customer service has become one of the easiest jokes in the world, providing ample cannon fodder for comedians, cartoonists and others in the public eye.

It might be easier for Obama to turn the entire global economy than conquering the challenge faced by Bill Bredt on his cross-country pep talks. Let's suppose for a moment that you were Bill. What would you say to those Air Canada employees? How would you eradicate the all-too-frequent stares of indifference and downright sneers directed towards the only people that can keep any company in business - the customer?

Some analysts warn money-losing Air Canada could be forced to file for bankruptcy protection again, although it has averted a cash crunch for now with more than $640-million in new borrowing arrangements. The airline lost $1-billion dollars last year while WestJet continued to rack up record profits. However, it appears that the man at the top, Montie Brewer believes there was little Air Canada could do about that. Brewer went on to say in the Globe article that,"It is small comfort that our loss was the result of factors outside of our control — soaring oil prices, foreign exchange losses due to a drop in the Canadian dollar, and the slowing economy”.

Is Air Canada "hearing the footsteps" with enough time still on the clock? Or will WestJet keep scoring customer service touchdowns and hit their market share goals ahead of schedule?

Does the airline score any points for attempting to address customer service issues or has the executive level at Air Canada been blindsided for far too long as to the reality of how this game called "business" is really played?

Does Montie Brewer really have a staff motivation issue or do you think the problem runs deeper than that?

"There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else" SAM WALTON


Jammers5 said...

I have experienced the difference in corporate philosophy between West Jet and Air Canada first hand, and have vowed to fly West Jet whenever possible - even if it meant paying higher fares. There is a real lesson for all of us that own a business here, customer service is the most important thing to concentrate on. West Jet has taught us that.

Robert Newman said...

The problem is how employees are treated by their employer.
For example;
After the massive storms in Vancouver many people for both airlines were stuck. Many employees for both airlines came in on days off, worked massive over time. (i worked 23 hrs straight) What did each company do?
WJ-- $500 travel voucher
AC-- a photocopied letter saying thanks.
Who do you think was happy when they punched in for work that day?

AC wants happy customers? How about happy employees first!