Mike Tod: Flying towards the future

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Air NZ is in one of its most exciting periods of consumer engagement for decades. writes Mike Tod.

Air New Zealand's Skycouch.
Air New Zealand's Skycouch.

Air NZ customers

The way in which companies, brands and products connect with people will be radically different when we look out 10 years. It's an exciting ride ahead and one that Air New Zealand is resolutely focused on. In fact, this whole space is one of the executive's key priorities.

"Mobile is clearly one of the core focuses and our customers are already seeing some of the benefits with our world-class app that will become even more personalised and relevant to each customer with future releases."
Mike Tod, chief marketing and customer officer at Air NZ

We have a deep focus on knowing our customers better than ever to understand what it is we can do to deliver better experiences and increase their preference or loyalty to Air New Zealand. Alongside this we have been bringing into the company world-class people with strong technical and international experience to play key roles in the consumer engagement journey. Areas they are leading include setting strategy, customer loyalty, customer experience and technology. We've also put a significant effort into sourcing some of the best thinking not just from within New Zealand but from specialists in Europe, Asia, Australia and the United States.

Underpinning everything in the consumer engagement journey is technology, and we believe that innovation applied at the discovery and planning phases leads to superior delivery and a better customer experience.


Mobile is clearly one of the core focuses and our customers are already seeing some of the benefits with our world-class app that will become even more personalised and relevant to each customer with future releases.

As a channel, mobile represents our best opportunity to engage with customers in a context and time-relevant way. It is the intersection of geospatial technology and rich customer data supported by real time IT architecture that provides a significant opportunity for us to add value to the customer experience. But we are serious about providing our customers with more than a mobile platform to transact on and navigate the customer journey.

We are investigating concepts designed to assist our customers at the planning and inspiration and sharing phases of their journey and naturally we see tablets as a key device to build our success around.

Internet of Everything

The ability for physical objects to talk to each other creates an incredible world of possibility for any business and this is a curve Kiwi firms must be at the front of.

With more device-to-device connectedness, we will become less fixated with and absorbed in our gadgets and begin moving through a world where services "just happen". At all points along our journey, such as entry into an airport lounge, we'll receive service based on our chosen preference, and special offers which delight us. If we wish, our travels will be recorded in the background, and our friends, family and colleagues will be automatically kept in touch with our progress and experiences.

To give an example of the possibilities in an airline context, imagine if the wine, beer and spirit bottles could talk to the glass on your tray. And that glass could talk to the cabin crew's device on the aircraft, which talked to the customer relationship management system on the ground. Over time the airline would intimately know your preferences.

Then just imagine getting on the plane every time and having someone serve you who knew when you last flew, what your drink preferences were on your last flights and had ensured your favourite meal and wine were to hand, all the information gathered by devices talking to each other rather than it being noted manually on a device.

In another scenario, imagine getting off the aircraft and receiving an alert on your phone to tell you exactly where your bag is, another alert to tell you when it is when placed on the baggage belt and then a countdown of how many metres away it is from you while you are waiting for it.

Wearable Devices

These new styles of seamless service will be enabled not only via today's smart phones or their future derivatives, or even the prominent examples of "wearable"that are beginning to make an appearance today, such as glasses and watches, but also via a vast array of small inexpensive devices containing sensors which can detect movement, sound, light, temperature, geographic location and other variables, all working together to assist the traveller.


Data enables us to understand our customers, make more effective business decisions, and communicate more clearly and more personally.

There are four legs to our data strategy to ensure we extract the right information to drive commercial outcomes and enhance the customer experience.

1. Use the data to enable us to understand our customers intimately.

2. Use these insights to communicate more intelligently with our customers.

3. Leverage the data to make better and faster business decisions to help our customers.

4. Use data to enhance the customer experience. (This can range from sharing a customer's data back with them by providing simple things like an annual map of where they have flown, through to letting them know in real time how far away their luggage is after they land.)

One of the great risks or opportunities for New Zealand competing with other countries in the future will be around legislation governing the ability of organisations and products to share information on each other's customers behaviour patterns whether it be derived from direct purchasing or the products they use. The ability to deliver truly innovative solutions that enhances the lives of customers could be constrained if there is not an ongoing informed and healthy debate around data-sharing and responsible use of data.


The fast pace of change alongside a broad range of new technological trends introduces opportunity as well as challenge, and strong governance that focuses on key areas like ever- evolving security, regulatory and compliance requirements remains paramount and vital to our success.

Our People

We encourage innovation through our brand values; our "Can Do" value encourages a culture where ideas are valued and people are proactively encouraged to think about better ways of doing things.

It's more important than ever that a company doesn't forget its staff. They must be taken on the journey so they understand the rapidly evolving consumer engagement landscape. The key to this is strong and engaging communication through channels that reflect how people live and interact today - and that's on computers and mobile devices like smart phones and ipads.

To engage "Air New Zealanders" we have developed a world-class intranet, named in the top 10 globally by Intranet Design Annual 2014, and we are developing mobile apps for staff. But equally we need to empower our people with the information and access to line-of-business systems they require to be productive in their roles, anywhere and any time. So we are in market for an application development partner who can assist us to deliver real time applications to our people on either corporate or bring your own devices in a secure environment.

Wynyard Quarter

Air New Zealand's Customer Innovation and Collaboration Centre is a gateway to the Wynyard Quarter. The centre was established late last year to provide a place for Air New Zealand to collaborate with partners on innovation, to identify mutual opportunities and solve problems. We're extremely pleased with the way it has been embraced by our business partners. And, interestingly, we are getting many requests from a variety of Kiwi companies wanting to use the space for innovation activity.

The Skycouch

• The Skycouch is an example of the product innovation style which has earned Air NZ a reputation as an industry trendsetter and frequent award winner.

•China Airlines is the first airline to use Air New Zealand's Skycouch, or "cuddle class", design following the expiry of the exclusivity period adopted when the product was launched in 2011.

•The innovative Skycouch combines a row of three seats along the window sides of the aircraft, which can be configured into a bed wide enough for two people lying on their side.

•The airline is looking to license the technology to other carriers on non-competing routes.

Mike Tod is chief marketing and customer officer at Air New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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