Why Emirates’ Stockholm route will be a success

Skywards GoldGrand political visions aside, the news of Emirates commencing flights from Dubai to Sweden’s capital Stockholm is the best news for Stockholm Arlanda Airport this year. Of course, this is not only good news for the airport – but good news for Sweden and the UAE too.

UAE businesses will get access to the business capital of Northern Europe, whilst Swedes will enjoy greater fare competition on travel to Asia.

Why do I believe this will work then? Already, Qatar Airways and all major European carriers fly to Stockholm. Clearly, Emirates would not be starting a route unless it made good business sense to do so.

This is how I think they thought:

  • Airport size – Arlanda is the 22nd busiest airport in Europe, with more traffic than Berlin or Dublin, for instance.
  • Many Swedish businesses are big in Asia, and often have their Middle Eastern HQ in Dubai.
  • Leisure travel – Swedes like travelling to warmer places for vacation. That around 350 000 Swedes travel every year to Thailand is certainly something Emirates will look to tap into. Also, Sweden is home to a big Iranian community.
  • The location – it will feel more like travelling in the right direction, compared to going via London, Amsterdam or Paris. At least if you’re going to Asia, that is…

Against Emirates’ case:

  • Dubai International Airport. DXB is turning into a nightmare with its long walking distances, crowded waiting areas, shops and lounges and ridiculous waiting times at passport control.
  • Qatar Airways. QA has operated flights between Stockholm and Doha for a couple of years. It is likely that the additional competition from Emirates will not be met with indifference.

The transfer of freight flights to Al Maktoum International Airport in Jebel Ali, close to the Dubai Marina, will help to ease the pressure on Dubai International Airport. Also, Emirates new exclusive A380 terminal will go some way in alleviating the strain on the main terminal building.

Going forward, it is possible that the weakest link in Dubai’s airport capacity will be the landing and take-off slot availability.

Hopefully the route will be a success, and the ties between Sweden and the UAE can be strengthened.

Further reading:

http://www.emirates.com/se/English/about/news/news_detail.aspx?article=1188007&offset=0

60 Doughnuts and Amazing Customer Service

Kidzania in the Dubai Mall
Kidzania in the Dubai Mall

A while ago when on assignment in Dubai, I joined my colleague Inge in the pursuit of acquiring 60 doughnuts (how could I possibly say no!). Inge wanted to get doughnuts to thank the colleagues whom supported her throughout the recovery from a foot injury.

Just before lunch and after some quick online research, we make our way to Dubai Mall where we hope to find a Krispy Kreme branch. When we get to the mall and ask where we can find it, we are told that Krispy Kreme closed quite some time ago.

We sit down to figure out what to do. I mention that I have this concierge service with my Amex card that I rarely use, and I suggest I call them to ask if there are any doughnut shops nearby.

I call Amex, and their representative says she will look into this and get back to me within 30 minutes. Meanwhile, Inge manages calls Dunkin’ Donuts. They say they have a shop within KidZania. So, what’s KidZania?

Apparently some kind of place that won’t let you in unless you buy a ticket….

Inge talks to the entrance staff, who are quite firm on the ticket requirement. After a while, they get hold of the duty manager – Mr Volkan. Mr Volkan is a very friendly guy, who comes out to greet us and offers to sort out the doughnuts! He has even taken pictures of the doughnuts that he shows us on his phone.

Whilst Volkan swipes through the doughnuts on his phone, Amex gets back to me. Whilst I am on the phone, Inge and Volkan go and get the doughnuts. The Amex lady tells me that there is a doughnut shop in KidZania. I confirm she is very right, and say that under normal circumstances we would have needed a ticket.

The Amex lady makes a friendly interruption and says that she has spoken to the duty manager of KidZania who have said he would be happy to let us in to get the doughnuts!

Suddenly, I understand that the request by my colleague to speak to the duty manager came as no surprise to him. Amex had already informed him about our mission.

On a personal level, this makes me happy – an employee who clearly loves her job and on this occasion went beyond her call of duty. The same could be said about the duty manager who was very accommodating.

On a professional level, it gives me hope that in an era of efficiency drives and cost cutting, there are still people who are empowered and want to deliver amazing customer service. This gives me hope that there are still businesses that understand the Moment of Truth*.

So, thank you Inge for giving me the opportunity to get this extraordinary experience on an ordinary day!

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Carlzon#cite_note-50k-9

The Datalicious Future

I am on a fascinating journey with my employer at the moment. Since a couple of months back,  Nigeria  is where I am. The mobile phone plays a central part in almost every Nigerian’s life. Particularly the Lagosians.

Based on my observations to date in Lagos, I think this city is on the verge of a data explosion. However, monetising data traffic is a huge challenge for operators. In any country.

In simple terms, a mobile network consists of two parts. The Radio Access Network (RAN) and the Core Network.

It is the RAN that carries your phone calls and text messages (SMS). The RAN is hooked up to a billing system, ensuring that you get charged appropriately (that’s the theory!) for your texts and calls.

With both voice traffic (Skype) and SMS (iMessage/WhatsApp?) through the Core, instead of over the RAN, operators risk losing significant streams of revenue. To prevent revenue loss, these seem to be the moves currently on offer.

UAE: Block Skype downloads. For the ones that have Skype from other sources, block the SkypeOut (Skype to landline) feature.

Sweden: Only higher priced price plans include usage of Skype.

UK: Just have slow data networks, which inevitably limits Skype, so that using it over 3G does not work particularly well. (certainly my experience as an end-user).

It is talking that the next generation’s networks LTE/LTE Advanced (aka 4G) completely lack a radio side. It is all core. It also makes sense; core networks can now be built reliable enough to hold voice.

Should operators charge based on megabytes, or should they charge based on what you download through their network? What will acquire/retain/scare customers?

A business that can provide what customers want, will surely be in a better position than a business that is making it hard for its customers to get what they want. Customers who are not getting what they want will look elsewhere.

For me and my employer, it is no secret that higher usage is good news for us. Successful and growing telecom operators require more equipment. We sell equipment.

Getting the Basics Right

You are selling strawberries at a busy farmers’ market, and you are advertising them as ready to eat.

One of your first customers points out that the strawberries are not washed, and asks if you can provide water or wash the strawberries prior to selling them.

You acknowledge there is an issue, and promise to think about it. However, bringing running water (or running away to wash the strawberries) requires effort. So you decide against it.

The weather is warm, and suddenly the ice cream stall across the street is becoming very popular. You decide to offer complimentary ice cream to your patrons. You phone a friend, asking her to drive past the supermarket and buy ice cream for your stall.

The ice cream arrives, and you start serving up strawberries with complimentary ice cream. Still with a sandy aftertaste…

Service Recovery in Dubai

Yesterday I had a great late lunch at a Korean restaurant here in Dubai. Tonight, I went there for dinner, expecting food as terrific as the day before. Sadly, it turned out to be a disappointment.

I went for their flagship set menu. Soup, noodles, deep-fried shrimp, deep fried dumplings, marinated beef and sashimi (raw fish). All to be washed down with premium Saudi non-alcoholic beer.

The sashimi had not thawed (had been frozen). I had to wipe the frying fat of the dumplings. The meat was of a bad cut. I had to remind the waitress to bring rice.

The soup came in when I had nearly finished with my meal, so I refused the soup. This was the worst Korean meal I have had. And I told them so.

Lots of “I’m sorry sir” from the waitress, and she assured me she had told the chef (which I made clear that I expected her to do).

I paid the full amount on the bill, and was never offered a discount. I refused the fruit salad that was being brought in after my complaint. I am not sure whether this fruit salad was an attempt of service recovery or if it was something they would bring in anyway.

So, what lessons can be learnt from this exercise? As self-appointed restaurant consultant, I will make a few suggestions.

* Establish what a staff member can/can not do when a customer complains

* If you offer something complimentary in an attempt to compensate, express this verbally prior to delivering the compensation. (for example: “I’m very sorry we did not meet your expectations. I have informed  the manager, and we/I would like to offer you a dessert as our apology. Would that be acceptable to you?”)

* Make sure to ask the customer once during the meal if the food is ok.

Most customers understand – and will even accept – when things go wrong. What they won’t accept is the business not trying to put things right.

The Art of Differentiation

Beating the competition through service differentiation is a topic that fascinates me deeply. Product is simply not enough.

Apple is known for making great products, but their whole service chain is equally impressive. I have a number of friends who tell good things about how Apple’s in-store customer care reps have resolved their  iPhone problems. These friends of mine will naturally give Apple repeat business.

Businesses use different strategies to differentiate themselves from the competition. RyanAir doesn’t try to be Lufthansa for a reason. Both are profitable, both fly people from point A to B. Their difference make them profitable as they fill different market needs.

The greatest differentiation challenge arises when you are competing for the same market, using   a nearly identical product,  in the same place, at roughly the same price. This is a challenge facing all businesses from telecom operators, to hotels and airlines.

Some would argue that it is then your people matter more than ever, and I am prepared to agree. People, processes and physical evidence to be precise. What do you think?

Teliacommunications and Freetradedom

TeliaSonera has received a bit of stick in the press for doing business with countries that may use telecom network technology against its citizens.

But even if you know that a country may use technology for bad, should firms stop doing business with them? Lars Nyberg, CEO of TeliaSonera, quoted in Swedish media the example of how mobile technology has powered the Arab Spring.

Isolation has not really done anything good for North Korea or Cuba. The gents at the top can get around the restrictions imposed by the international community, whilst the people gain nothing at all.

From what I have seen so far, I am stronger than ever in my belief that isolation and sanctions play in the hands of dictators. Education and free trade will open up this world.

The UAE is a great example of how the government encourages an open dialogue with the rest of the world, whilst making gains thanks to international trade.