SAS big brand journey
SAS wants to be the first choice for people who are frequent flyers, regardless of the purpose of their travel. Eivind Roald, Executive Vice President & Chief Commercial Officer, is driving the change.
“It boils down to our deciding what our primary target group is, understanding the customers’ needs, and then developing products and services that meet them. We will create an all-in-one experience, so that flying with SAS will give you more than flying with any of our competitors,” Roald says.
He was appointed Executive Vice President in 2012, just a few months before the company narrowly avoided bankruptcy. In the wake of the crisis, a series of transformation programs were started. Roald had a clear vision of SAS’s future as Scandinavia’s leading airline and how the company would regain its position.
“The crisis came about for several reasons. Costs were too high, and productivity too low, but there was also an obvious need for more clarity about who we are, what we do, and who we’re for,” Roald explains. “We had to make a decision. We couldn’t be everything to everyone.”
SAS went back to the customer to see what really drives them: Who is traveling? Why? What is the most important thing when choosing an airline? What are their interests? What are they willing to pay for? What do we know about Scandinavian travelers?
Eivind Roald's travel tips
- Svalbard, Norway
Travel to Svalbard in the spring and drive a snowmobile or visit Ship in the Ice in Tempel Fjord. Simply magical and absolutely fantastic.
- San Francisco
Stay at The Clift hotel in San Francisco, rent a bike and ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito for lunch.
- Maasai Mara, Kenya
Go on a safari and stay at Karen Blixen Camp in Maasai Mara – a memory for life.
That work has now been completed and the data shows that of the 20 million people living in Scandinavia, nine million fly once a year, and around 2.2 million fly five or more times a year.
“Those 2.2 million people account for 70 percent of all euros spent annually on flights in Scandinavia. These are the customers we’re now focusing on,” Roald says.
Those two million people – and more in the future, if everything goes according to plan – are also the foundation of the concept to build a “membership airline”.
As a membership airline, SAS will use its influence to make the Eurobonus loyalty program stronger, and help its customers to use the points not only for upgrades, lounge access, or buying food onboard, but also outside airports by offering them deals from numerous partners.
Today, barely two years after the crisis, surveys show a clear upward trend, and Roald says the reason is that SAS has stopped trying to please everyone.
He is enthusiastic about the power of the brand, and how it can bring in higher profits.
“Why do so many people in Scandinavia buy iPhones when there are many cheaper alternatives? The choices people make are not based solely on rational factors.
“We make choices based on who we want to identify with – which ‘community’ we want to be a part of and that applies to travelers as well,” Roald says.
“In the upcoming months, our customers will notice changes at SAS – changes that differentiate us from low-service airlines”
The process to create a membership airline began 18 months ago, and since then the SAS look, customer communications, products, and service have all been subject to evaluation.
“In the upcoming months, our customers will notice changes at SAS – changes that differentiate us from low-service airlines,” Roald says.
Focus has shifted to the value SAS creates for its customers.
“SAS is back in the driving seat now. We set the standard. Let our competitors try to imitate us for a change,” he says.
While it may seem counterintuitive, according to Roald, the focus on frequent travelers will benefit everybody. Those who fly the most are also the airline’s most discerning customers and know what good service is. They demand the most from their travel experience, so they’re the ones who decide where the bar is set.
Not everything will, or should, change. Safety, punctuality, and reliability are something SAS will not compromise on.
“Safety will always be our top priority. It’s followed by punctuality and reliability, and there we are already among the best in the world. A flight with SAS is increasingly becoming an assurance of arriving on time,” he says proudly.
But because SAS refuses to compete on price alone, it has to be able to give their customers value for their money. Cost reduction will need to continue but the savings will be invested back in new products. The fine qualities that SAS already has are becoming increasingly visible.
The global Star Alliance network is one of the benefits, but the list of things that make life and traveling easier is long.
There will be more direct routes in and out of Scandinavia, and cabin upgrades on all long-haul aircraft, featuring a fresh style with new lie-flat seats in Business Class and new seats in both SAS Plus and SAS GO. The entire cabin will also get a brand new in-flight entertainment system, Wi-Fi and lighting.
There are the Fast Track service, and lounges, and many digital services and solutions that make the journey more enjoyable and easier.
The food served on the planes is being evaluated, lounges will be expanded, and work to automate ground services continues.
“We will invest over SEK 500 million in developing our IT and digital services. SAS will be at the forefront of future digital communications,” Roald says.
The transformation will also be reflected in customer communication, both in direct dialogue through EuroBonus and in the company’s advertising. A new campaign focusing on our primary customer group named “We are travelers” was recently rolled out.
The goal is to create a seamless experience, from the first point of digital contact when you book your trip and meeting SAS at the airport and in the cabin right through to finishing your journey and collecting your EuroBonus points.
“We’ll still be competitive on price, but instead of price being the only argument, we’re also adding resources to expand and adapt our product for those traveling mostly in Scandinavia.
“In short, we want to make our customers’ lives a bit easier,” Roald concludes.
Who could ask for more?
Text: Hanne Eide Andersen