Air Canada pledging to improve customer service, then pull our other leg

All the company’s problems will be solved with a series of “cross-country pep talks”

The Globe reports this morning: Air Canada is becoming increasingly worried about the ascent of WestJet Airlines Ltd., assigning chief operating officer Bill Bredt to deliver cross-country pep talks urging staff to improve customer service amid competitive threats and the recession.

Wow, bad enough the guy actually has to speak in front of Air Canada employees – he also has to travel across the country on their planes. Bill Bredt, my nickname for you is Short Straw, for that is what you have drawn.

Air Canada’s customer service is legendary – among humorists, satirists and masochists. It’s the easiest joke in the world and one of the most rewarding to tell, because everyone gets it.

Of course there are some nice people who do good work for Air Canada (I remember encountering one – the year was 1985). But anyone who’s ever flown on the airline is familiar with the stares of indifference, the sneers, the attitude, the brazen cash grabs (introducing our Surcharge Surcharge, a surcharge to cover the internal costs of levying our various surcharges) and the way that important flight information flows from company to customer at roughly the speed of motionlessness.

But now a series of “cross-country pep talks” is going to change all that! The employees of Air Canada are going to become friendly, helpful and entirely pleasant to deal with. The surly will become smiley. Fuel savings will be achieved because the company’s airplanes will take flight on the power of raw amiability.

Impressive. Savvy work there at the top by CEO Monte Brewer. It only took him the entire duration of his time as chief executive to determine that the company’s customer service is lacking and, hey, wait a minute!, maybe that’s why WestJet – a company that started from the closest thing to nothing – now owns 36% of the domestic market.

So now Monte is issuing “a call to arms” – though if he’s like a typical Air Canada customer, he’ll need to wait on hold for 45 minutes for his call to be answered. Monte wrote to employees recently: “The most important factor in determining our future success is customer service. This will be the battleground this year and in the years ahead.” WestJet v. Air Canada on the “battleground” of customer service: it’ll be like Tyson v. Spinks, Secretariat v. the Belmont field, Rosie O’Donnell v. that side of ribs.

By way of conclusion, I draw your attention to the concluding paragraphs of the Globe story:

Air Canada reported Friday that it lost $1-billion last year.

“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,” Mr. Brewer said.

I love this. How convenient for Monte Brewer that Air Canada’s loss was “the result of factors outside of our control.” Monte himself had nothing to do with it! The lousy customer service – which Monte himself just acknowledged – had nothing to do with it! Poor Air Canada was buffeted solely by mean, nasty forces beyond its control. The buck stops… somewhere over there.

Question: if Air Canada were ever to earn $1-billion (I know – hilarious, but stick with it), do you think Monte would say it was due to “low oil prices, foreign exchange gains and a strong economy?” No, I expect Monte would say it was due to Monte.

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