Customer Satisfaction on Airline Services

Abstract

In airline industry, the level of customer satisfaction depends on the customer experience and it is a key to success and for sustainable growth of a business. Customer satisfaction is proved as an indicator to gain market share. Therefore, it is important for airline companies to recognize the customer needs and wants in order to manage customer expectation effectively. However, there is limited research regarding customer satisfaction in airline industry and the market theory used for airline customer satisfaction need to be further studied in order to apply in the market situation today.

Thus, the study aims will find out the relationship between customer experiences on airline services and customer satisfaction and also define the operational characteristic that influences customer choice in airline. In order to obtain the research objectives, the result of this study will answer the research question, which is what are the factors affecting customer choice in airline?. The previous research reveals that customer satisfaction in airline industry can be measure by using SERQVUAL model to evaluate customer experience based on five different elements which are tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy.

Each element has different level of impact on customer satisfaction. However, most of the services provided by airline are intangible. These kinds of services are engaging with customer emotion and are difficult to obtain. Furthermore, it requires higher cost to maintain high quality of both products and services. The result of the studies are important to help airline companies in creating attractive marketing strategies by an understanding of the customer expectation and market need.

Research motivation

Justification

Airline industry is one the hospitality sector which to expect to provide the best service to the customer (Nameghi & Ariffin, 2013). Customer experience needs to be focused as it leads to customer satisfaction (Laming & Mason, 2014). There are many literature indicate customer experiences have significant impact on customer choice in future (Sun & Kim, 2013; Cho, Windle, & Dresner, 2017). However, the concept of customer satisfaction in airline industry is not fully discovered in previous research. Most of the customer satisfaction in hospitality researchs are done in the areas of hotels and restaurant (Cho et al., 2017; Wen & Lai, 2010; Sun & Kim, 2013).

Hence, study to determine the important influences on customer experience from airline services is required (Wen & Lai, 2010). Furthermore, there is also a need to study current approach to apply in the current market situation (Laming & Mason, 2014). This study will be designed to define the key factors that affect airline choice by to fill the research gap. This study is important to airlines to create adequate marketing strategies to manage customer expectation in order to engage with customer effectively.

Aim of study

The study will aim to discover the relationship between customer experiences on airline services and customer satisfaction. Besides, this study also tends to determine the operational characteristic that influences customer choice in airline in order to provide a better understanding of the customer expectation of airline services.

Objectives

The objectives of this study are to identify the important factors affecting customer experience with airline and to determine the impact of these factors on customer satisfaction in airline industry through online customer reviews.

Scope of Study

The scope of this study will only focus on the customer experience on three best international airlines in Asia Pacific through online reviews from a third-party website. These three airlines will be full-service airlines which are Air New Zealand, Qantas Airline, and Singapore Airline. The result of this study may not able to cover for customer experience on budget airline as different market segment has different target market. Previous research reveals that different customer segments have different requirement and expectation on airline services. For example, higher income customers such as business passengers prefer nonstop flight route (Laming & Mason, 2014). Other than that, the sample size is small which there is only total of 300 reviews will be selected.

Literature Review

In Airline industry, customer satisfaction has become important as it is the key to survive to secure long term profit and enhance competitive advantages in a highly competitive environment (Suki, 2014; Shave, 2011). Thus, it has driven an organization to focus on improving customer experience as well as to manage customer relationship positively (Laming & Mason, 2014). It is prior for airline companies to understand the market need as it helps to improve the services accordingly to meet customer expectation (Suki, 2014).

Thus, this literature review section will provide a background of customer satisfaction in airline industry which including the importance of customer satisfaction to the airlines performance. It is followed by a discussion of the factors influencing customer experience on airline and the issue in managing customer satisfaciton.

Customer satisfaction in airline industry

Customer satisfaction is found as a critical element to affect organization performance (Sun & Kim, 2013). In order to achieve high level customer satisfaction, customer experience needs to be focused. Customer experience can be defined as the impression during the interactions with product or service. It leads to post-purchase stage and the result can be positive or negative influence (Laming & Mason, 2014; Suki, 2014).

Commercial hospitality is a friendly behaviour from an organization to guest and it can be explained by four features which are generosity, performance, surprises, and safety and security. Most importantly, it is not only to greet and please the guest, but also to show the best efforts to assist the guests (Nameghi & Ariffin, 2013). According to Suki (2014), customer satisfaction in airline is linked to service quality which refers to customer’s overall experiences of services provided by airline. However, numerous researchers indicate both product and service quality are equally important to satisfy customer which refer to the functional element and performance-based element delivered to the customer (Koklic et al., 2017; Sun & Kim, 2013; Nadiri et al., 2008).

Previous research proves that customer satisfaction tend to help organization to gain higher profits and it is an indicator to increase market share and a strategy for customer retention (Koklic et al., 2017; Laming & Mason, 2014). It helps the airline to enhance brand image and distinguish from the competitors which result in attracting more customers in order to gain more market share (Suki, 2014). There is positive result that satisfied customers will consider choosing the same airline to travel in the future. Meanwhile, they will recommend the airline to others (Koklic et al., 2017).

Factors influencing customer choice on airline

SERVQUAL model is developed by Parasuraman, Zeithaml, and Berry in 1998 to measure customer satisfaction throughout the experience in the five service dimensions to match up with customer expectations (Suki, 2014; Laming & Mason, 2014). It is a scale to evaluate five different dimensions of services delivered which include of tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, assurance, and empathy (Pakdil, 2007).

First, tangibles are about the physical assets such as facilities, equipment, personnel, and communication materials (Nadiri et al., 2008). Airline tangible quality such as the performance of cabin crew, level of comfort of the seat, quality of the in-flight meal, cleanliness of airplane, online check-in system and the other visible subjects (Suki, 2014). Positive relationship has been found between tangibles element and customer satisfaction (Koklic et al., 2017; Suki, 2014). Besides, by providing correct service based on the passenger’s needs and wants is the basic element to build customer satisfaction (Nameghi & Ariffin, 2013).

Next, reliability is the capability to provide the service dependably as promise to the customer (Nadiri et al., 2008). Based on Chen’s research (2008), reliability such as deliver correct service to the passengers, punctuality, provide convenient schedule, staff confidence influences directly on customer satisfaction. Reliability feature has the highest mean value for customer expectation in airline industry (Chen, 2008). For example, airlines show a sincere interest in solving customer’s problem.

Responsiveness is one of the features in SERVQUAL model which used to refer to provide instantaneous service and replies to help customers (Nadiri et al., 2008). It can help to build customers confidence in the employees and it has significant positive influence on customers’ confidence benefit (Nameghi & Ariffin, 2013).

Besides, another feature is assurance which can be described as the courtesy of employees (Nadiri et al., 2008). Based on Nameghi and Ariffin (2013), airline courtesy is being polite and respectful to the passengers such as friendly smile and eye contact. This feature is seen as the main factor to affect customer in decision making.

The last feature is empathy which is about personalized services provide to the customers (Nadiri et al., 2008). Frequent flyer programs are one of the services related to this feature as it designed to serve customers individually based on their needs. Customer was found enjoyed and satisfied in specially personalized treatment (Pakdil, 2007).

Challenges in managing customer satisfaction in airline industry

It is hard for hospitality industry to obtain high level of customer satisfaction since the industry is a combination of products and services provider. In a result, it requires higher costs to maintain the products in high quality level and to provide training to the employees in order to develop creative and dynamic service to the customers to exceed their expectation (Sun & Kim, 2013; Nameghi & Ariffin, 2013). Airline provides most of the services are intangible (Namukasa, 2013).

From SERVQUAL model, it can be seen that emotional engagement is an important factor to enhance customer relationship in order to satisfy customer (Hapsari, Clemes, & Dean, 2016; Nameghi & Ariffin, 2013). It is more powerful than any tangible elements such as creating memorable travel experiences by airlines. Nevertheless, features such as reliability, assurance, empathy have been found that are harder to meet customer expectation compared to tangible elements (Nameghi & Ariffin, 2013).

According to Nameghi and Ariffin (2013), cabin crews are the frontline person who contacts with the passengers directly to perform services such as courtesy, appreciation, socializing, and comfort to the passengers. For example, cabin crews need to ensure passengers fly comfortably with the airline by paying their best effort to ensure they have a good rest onboard. However, the performance of cabin crews has shown that there is lack of training which fails to provide accurate services to the passengers (Nameghi & Ariffin, 2013). For instance, Thai airline is known as the most hospitable airline but the cabin crews have issue to use English language result in communication barrier occur. It is definitely an obstacle to provide accurate and prompt service (Nameghi & Ariffin, 2013).

Research Design

Research questions

This study will be designed to answer the following research questions in order to achieve the research objectives, which are

  • What are the factors affecting customer choice in airline?

Sampling

Customer reviews for the selected airlines on TripAdvisor website as the sample for this study. The selected airlines are Air New Zealand, Qantas Airline, and Singapore Airline which are the top three full-service international airlines in Asia Pacific (Zhang, 2017). Total of 300 reviews are collected which 100 reviews from each airline. Since the availability of internet is rising today, online customer review has been chosen as the instrument.

In order to collect reliable and quality data, several criteria have been set for the selected reviews which the reviews are in English language and posted between July 2017 to October 2017. Besides, only the reviews from travellers who chose economy cabin and international route were selected and all the reviews should mention the airline service quality in any aspect. The rational for choosing customer reviews on TripAdvisor for data collection as TripAdvisor is an independent website and it has large number of users from all around the world. Therefore, it is believed to collect qualified data to investigate the research questions for this study.

Data Collection

Qualitative research method was applied in data collection procedure as this method aims to provide more solid and representative results. Moreover, this approach is used to get depth understanding in certain situation (Anyan, 2013). All the selected reviews were archived on Excel which include of customer comments on the airlines and the overall customer satisfaction on rating scale from 1 to 5 that can be found in their reviews. All the data collected were recorded separately into two sections which are satisfaction and dissatisfaction on data sheet based on researchers’ knowledge and experience at the same time in order to use for further processing.

Data Processing & Analysis

Since the information were collected and well recorded in the data sheet, content analysis and coding were used in data processing. Firstly, all the data recorded in data sheet were coded and group them into different categories which are the specific variables that affect customer satisfaction in order to reflect specific airline satisfaction issues. Next, calculated the frequency on each category to show the proportion of factors. This method aims to examine and evaluate the coded data by identify the important factors to affect airline customer satisfaction and comparing the findings of this study with the literature. All the significant findings were illustrated in different variables and explained in detail in the result section in this report.

Results

General comparison between three airlines.

Airline Sample Mean* Standard Deviation
Average 300 3.99 1.22
Air NZ 100 4.39 0.91
SGA 100 4.11 1.13
Qantas 100 3.48 1.40

Satisfaction on different dimensions.

Dimensions Average Air NZ SGA Qantas
In-flight service 171% 178% 200% 136%
Pre-flight service 26% 22% 36% 19%
Customer perception 25% 15% 46% 13%
Other customer service 3% 4% 2% 4%
After-flight service 1% 1% 1% 1%

Service quality with items – Strength.

Best Dimensions Items Average Air NZ SGA Qantas
1st In-flight service Attentiveness and friendliness of the cabin crew 57% 57% 60% 55%
2nd In-flight service Good quality of food & beverage served 43% 46% 57% 26%
3rd In-flight service Quality of entertainment 28% 34% 28% 21%
4th In-flight service Seating comfort (incl. leg room) 30% 30% 35% 26%
5th Pre-flight service Efficiency of check-in 11% 9% 18% 7%
6th Customer perception The competence of the cabin crew 10% 7% 18% 4%
7th Customer perception The value for money 8% 3% 19% 1%
8th Pre-flight service On-time arrival/departure 7% 10% 18% 6%

Service quality with items – Weakness.

Worst Items Average Air NZ SGA Qantas
1st Good quality of food & beverage served 14% 5% 11% 26%
2nd Seating comfort (incl. leg room) 11% 10% 9% 15%
3rd Attentiveness and friendliness of the cabin crew 6% 7% 5% 7%
4th Quality of entertainment 6% 1% 7% 10%
5th On-time arrival/departure 5% 4% 2% 8%

Conclusion

The aim of this research is to determine the relationship between customers’ experiences with airline services and customer satisfaction. The key research question guiding the study is “What are the factors affecting customer choice in airline?” The study also seeks to determine the particular factors affecting customers’ experiences with airlines, such as the quality of food and service. The research is focused on the airlines operating in the Asia Pacific region and uses online reviews as the primary source of data.

So far, the research offered some important insights into the quality of customer service and other factors affecting customer satisfaction and experience. Out of the three airlines reviewed, Qantas had the lowest overall scores of customer satisfaction with in-flight and pre-flight service. Among the key factors affecting the customers’ negative experiences with Qantas were the poor quality of food, low seating comfort, and arrival or departure delays. Moreover, inattentiveness or rudeness of the cabin crew was perceived as the third most important factor in predicting customers’ negative experiences.

The best airline for in-flight customer satisfaction was SGA. Among the airlines considered, it showed the highest scores in the quality of food and beverage served, the efficiency of check-in, and competence of the cabin crew. The customers also noted good value for money and timeliness in their reviews of SGA. However, despite the high score of SGA in certain aspects of service, Air New Zealand showed the best overall customer satisfaction score considering both pre-flight and in-flight service.

For instance, it scored the highest among the three airlines for the quality of entertainment. It also showed second-best results in food quality and work of the cabin crew. In contrast with SGA, however, there were fewer direct reviews commenting on the quality of service or tangibles in Air NZ. Thus, whereas SGA scored higher in specific domains, Air NZ had a more stable overall satisfaction level, which means there are no significant differences between the two airlines in terms of service quality.

For instance, in terms of in-flight service, SGA received a 200% satisfaction score, whereas Air NZ reached 178%. Similarly, in pre-flight service, SGA’s satisfaction levels were at 36%, while Air NZ ranked at 22%. The differences between the two airlines are thus relatively minor, and the overall customer experience with these two airlines was rather positive.

Among the top three factors affecting positive customers’ experiences were the work of the cabin crew, quality of food and beverage provided, and the quality of entertainment. However, the top three factors linked to negative customers’ experiences were different. Poor quality of food was most often mentioned in negative reviews, followed by seating comfort and cabin crew work. Thus, one major finding of this research is that an improvement in factors affecting negative customer experience might not always contribute to positive feedback. For instance, improving in-flight entertainment might not help to achieve better satisfaction scores if customers’ experiences are negatively affected by more important factors, such as food quality.

On the whole, the preliminary finding of the research was that customer satisfaction with the airline depends highly on the quality of food, seating comfort, and timeliness, as well as on the work of the cabin crew. This finding is generally in line with previous research. For instance, Chen (2008) noted that timeliness is among the key factors influencing the perceived reliability of the airline, which is linked to customer satisfaction.

The work of the cabin crew, on the other hand, was studied by Nameghi and Ariffin (2013), who concluded that barriers to customer service, such as incompetence or lack of language skills, could impair the quality of service provided, thus decreasing customer satisfaction. Similarly, Suki (2014) found that empathy of the cabin crew was directly related to customer satisfaction. Finally, Lee and Ko (2016), as well as Namukasa (2013), mention the quality of in-flight food and beverage as one of the most significant factors affecting customers’ experiences with the airline.

The study has a few limitations. First of all, it only focuses on the Airlines operating in the Asia-Pacific region. The international flights in this region are usually long, which could affect both the customer service and customer satisfaction due to tiredness and physical discomfort of both the customers and the in-flight crew. Secondly, the study only considers three airlines. Both of the limitations affect the possibility of generalising the results, as the levels of customer satisfaction and factors influencing the perception of the airline could be different for other carriers or routes.

This research has significant implications for practice, as it allows airlines to focus on the specific factors affecting customer satisfaction. Moreover, it helps the airlines to prioritise the aspects of service correctly to achieve best results in customer experience. For instance, quality of entertainment might not be as significant to the majority of customers as food quality and in-flight crew performance, so airlines could focus on improving the aspects of service that have a more significant impact on customer satisfaction. This could allow carriers to reduce the budget spent on enhancing service while at the same time providing a better customer experience. The research has also confirmed the theory addressed in previous studies, as well as their findings.

Overall, the main suggestion for further research is to review the factors affecting customer satisfaction with different carriers and routes. Obtaining a wider range of information would allow generalising the findings and making reliable conclusions to inform the practices used by airlines in improving the service and achieving higher levels of customer satisfaction

Project timeline

Timeline Tasks
20 September – 30 September Reviewed literature and generate ideas for research proposal title: Identified problems, the importance of study and the research gaps
1- October – 2 October Discuss research proposal title with the lecturer: Modified and title approved
3 October – 12 October Writing research proposal
13 October Submission of research proposal
14 November – 9 November Data collection and data analysis
10 November – 30 November Writing final report: compare the research result with literature to examine the finding for this study
1 December Submission of final report

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