We talked to Bert Goren, Product Director at SWISS, about what is needed to bring more SWISSness back to the iconic airline brand.
After SWISS International Airlines was acquired by Lufthansa in 2008, there was a strong focus on standardization, ergo increasing efficiency. Even thought his approach was important to get SWISS back on track, it didn’t foster innovation. A certain degree of differentiation is now needed in order to show the unique value proposition of each Lufthansa Group airline, depending on the specific target segment.
Find signature elements that differentiate the brand
It is all about finding key signature elements, when focusing on differentiation: those make the offered value unique and recognizable. Especially in the airline industry this is key, as products and processes are very similar across competition. For example, every airline offers coffee to their customers, be it for free or not. But the way how coffee is served can be very different. How can the experience of serving coffee be made unique in a “SWISS”way? Maybe adding a small piece of unique Swiss chocolate? In this case, when rethinking a customer experience and looking for signature brand elements, cultural aspects play a big role. Swiss culture offers a deep heritage that can be used to create unique experiences. For example, SWISS recently created a new lounge in the Zurich airport. Swiss heritage is the main focus, with a clean, modern and cozy design.
Main Takeaway: Find elements that make the brand special, like its cultural heritage in the case of SWISS, and use it across the whole customer experience.
Operate in cross functional teams to stay innovative
If you want to create something new, out of the box, it is highly beneficial to operate in cross functional teams. In order to design a valuable new experience, Bert composed the team of people from different disciplines like product development, brand, food and beverage, ground operations and cabin crew. Bringing together those disciplines helps to constantly reflect on what works and what doesn’t. Specialists in a specific field often want to continue doing things the way they used to, based on their previous assumptions. It is therefore crucial to also receive feedback from people who are not familiar with the field at all or who have a different area of expertise. Bert would for example also ask someone from the procurement department to give feedback on anew lounge concept.
Main Takeaway: Challenge assumptions from experts by including different disciplines in the innovation process.
A workshop shouldn't feel like work
The most important tool in Bert’s innovation projects are workshops. According to him, the environment you create is decisive for the outcome but is often underestimated. If the atmosphere is not good from the very beginning, this will strongly affect the quality of the end result. Hosting a workshop off-site is often a good choice as it enables participants to detach from their work environment. The more a workshop set up resembles a real life experience, that is similar to the experience you want to create, the easier it is for participants to think in the right direction. If SWISS would want to create anew hospitality experience, for example, Bert would have the workshop in an interesting hospitality location to help people develop the right mindset and would enable the to interact with each other before the actual workshop starts.
Main Takeaway: Make workshop participants feel at ease by creating an informal experience that is related to the desired outcome.
Listen closely to customers even if it doesn’t align with global trends
Meals were normally created based on current global food trends. However, focusing on customers it became clear that for example a burger was much more appreciated. The same happened in their first class segment: SWISS had to learn from their customers that not lobster or caviar was their preferred meal, but rather a classic Swiss “OLMA Bratwurst”. Those customer insights are gathered by the marketing department. In order to make use of these learnings, there are some internal structures that strongly help. At SWISS, marketing and product employees are sitting next to each other in an open office space without physical barriers. This makes it easier for the product department to gain insights from customer feedback and accordingly better understand customers’ real needs.
Main Takeaway: Empower your company to understand the true needs customers have by setting up open structures.
Think about structures that create an open atmosphere
The mindset in the airline industry is in general very open and international. Within SWISS, this open mindset is now combined with an even flatter hierarchy. A couple months ago, the company got rid of their job titles. People have specific responsibilities in their job profile and if they want to do something else, they need to internally apply for a new job. Even though this works very well so far, it can create confusion in the job market.It is therefore crucial to clearly state responsibilities and tasks, when applying an approach like this.
Main Takeaway: Align internal structures to the value proposition you want to offer to customers: when more innovation is needed, create innovation enhancing structures.
Future of the airline industry
As any other industry, the airline industry is continuously evolving. At the moment sustainability is a big industry driver. Everyone wants to fly green. Therefore the main focus for the next years is to create a product experience that is as green as possible. This will include to be more efficient and reduce plastic for the provided food. Still it is key to keep listening to the customers and adapt the offering according to their needs.