Qantas shows how business can rebuild trust

“We never take for granted the things that could occur in other businesses might not occur in our case,” Joyce told the forum.

“We call it the Swiss cheese of the aviation industry – where the holes line up with processes, with people, with culture, you’ll get a problem occurring.”

So despite the royal commission being a million miles from aviation, Joyce employed the same mantra.

“We took the APRA report, the royal commission stuff and looked at everything we’re doing and said, ‘can you improve on it, and can you actually get better?’”

It quickly became apparent Qantas could. Joyce saw a complaint from a customer who had requested a “status pause” so her frequent flyer points didn’t expire while she went through cancer treatment.

The customer was told by the call centre it wasn’t possible – such status pauses are offered only to customers who were having a baby.

Joyce quickly changed the policy.

“You have to get people to think in your culture … to actually think, if this was your mother, if this was your sister, how would you approach it and how would you apply it?

“You have to look at this and stare at it, and figure out how you can improve.”

Alan Joyce and Boral chief executive Mike Kane at the business forum that finished off The Australian Financial Review Business Summit.  Jessica Hromas

It’s a crucial insight into how a company such as Qantas remains one of our most trusted.

Airlines, like banks, deal with thousands of people every day, so there will plenty of minor complaints it faces.

But the company still retains trust because of its preparedness to listen, and then change and adapt.

Clearly, part of this willingness to change has been forced on Qantas by changing circumstances in the aviation sector, as Joyce explained.

“We are very heavily exposed, a lot of businesses, to companies around the globe. And if we weren’t putting the customer first, and weren’t trying to figure out how to improve all the time, and come up with new service, and lead with innovation, we have no right to exist.

“Qantas will celebrate 99 years of operation, the oldest continuous airline in the world. It’s survived for those 99 years ’cause it changed its business every decade, and it delivered for the customer for every decade.”

Creating a loyalty program like Frequent Flyers and then starting Jetstar would be examples of this innovation.

But Joyce’s willingness to listen and then act on a subject such as same-sex marriage is another example of the way the company has engendered trust.

Clearly, Qantas understood far better than politicians where the electorate stood on this issue. Clearly, it judged that its preparedness to speak out, and show leadership, actually built on the reputational capital it had developed.

It is this mix of being willing to listen and willing to change that marks Qantas’ recent history from a business leadership standpoint.

But it’s also a simple formula that the wider business sector could build from. Listen to your customers and the community, and they will listen to you.

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