Fifty airlines, 100 best selling cabin crew and more than 40 supplier sponsors attended last month’s ISPY 2013 airline event at the Hilton Metropole Hotel in Brighton, UK. ISPY and Travel Retail Training Managing Director Christine Martin talked to Doug Newhouse about the event, this May’s new mini offshoot in Asia and why treating cabin crew with respect reaps big rewards.
Generally speaking you must have been pretty pleased with the event?
I have been bowled over by the feedback from everyone who attended. The testimonials that have come through which are on the website are just humbling in every respect.
Many mention members of my team by name, which proves to me that we really engaged with everyone. My teams professionalism, energy and enthusiasm never wavered from the beginning of the week till the end. They were amazing. [See website]
[Above: Winners on stage at the ISPY 2013 event]
In terms of things that went particularly well and others that could be better in future – what would they be?
In terms of what we could improve on, the list is long, but that is because we are all perfectionists. We are constantly challenging ourselves in order to exceed our guest’s expectations. There were a few curved balls that came hurtling our way, but the team handled them brilliantly and stuck to our motto of ‘there is always a solution.’ The most significant being our keynote speaker cancelling at the very last moment.
So how did you fill the keynote slot?
The planned presentations filled the time we had, without it being laboured which was great.
Emma Doherty, Director of SmartCrew (conference sponsor) gave an enlightening presentation on how airlines can enhance their training and upskill their crew by accessing government funding through the Apprenticeship Scheme.
SmartCrew is an innovative piece of software, which makes the assessment of the crew’s competency paper free. It can also be used to make recruitment, training (state of the art online) and performance management much quicker, simpler, more transparent and therefore effective.
The Apprenticeship Scheme makes all of this a cost neutral initiative which is proving to be very popular with many airlines.
Our second guest speaker was Spencer Sheen, Head of Retail for Gatwick Airport. He very proudly shared with us what they had done through the ‘Rhythm of Gatwick’ programme to engage and train their front-line staff. I can vouch for the impact of this initiative as I saw and felt the difference on my last visit through Gatwick.
Lastly, Ben Storey from Smart Insights explained what they had been doing with many of the worlds’ largest theme parks in terms of capturing customer service feedback and monitoring time spent in queues through the use of iPads.
He had some really interesting ideas on how the airlines could use and benefit from this type of technology.
I think it could be deployed by the airlines who have touch screen entertainment. If they had this as the only option at the top of descent I do think that the customers would complete the questionnaire and it would be tamper proof too.
[Above: Kenya Airways provide some entertainment during the ISPY 2013 event]
Looking at the whole event, what surprised you most – whatever it might have been?
Without doubt the ‘KASH’ (Knowledge, Attitude, Skills and Habits) of the competing crew. They were so well prepared and really up for whatever we threw at them.
They fully embraced the spirit of ISPY. I think the fact that this year we trained and assessed them as a team, took the edge off their nerves and allowed them to relax and be the very best they could be. We saw teamwork and sportsmanship at its very best.
Do you think that the extra effort that people are putting in now is testimony to the way that the reputation of ISPY has spread?
I’d like to think so. ISPY has become an important fixture in the inflight retail calendar. We are now on the radar of airline management at director level and they want their crew to return with a trophy.
It certainly seems that quite a few crew know about ISPY now – do you feel that this extension of ISPY to Asia is going to grow it even more?
We know from our Facebook group more and more crew are spreading the word, which is great. In Asia there are a lot of emerging low-cost carriers which would probably not be able to come to the international event, so if they can’t come to us then we will go to them.
If we can raise that profile of what and how crew sales training, coaching and engagement can add to the bottom line, then that has to be a good thing.
So this is going to be a mini scaled down version of ISPY over two days?
To test the water, so to speak, we are planning a mini ISPY Asia Pacific. We intend to customize what we already do to suit the specific needs and working practices in this region.
[Above: Inflight Sales people of the year winners]
Do you feel that there is still a lot of new, fresh ground you can cover with ISPY?
There is always room for improvement – We will analyse the feedback and react accordingly. After all, we like to think of ISPY as the Industry’s event not ours. We just manage it.
This is actually a huge big event for many cabin crew and it is almost like a day or week release to college or university…
It is and I don’t want to sound cheesy, but they say it is life changing. For example, if you look at Anthony Carson, the winner of the product merchandising skill award in 2005 – he is now the Base Manager at Belfast for Aer Lingus and the sales training and performance management system he has initiated is fantastic.
We are just proud to provide a platform for them to shine.
What about your team – do you want to say a few words about them? I must admit to being impressed by their efforts during the week…
Absolutely amazing. When I did the team brief on Sunday before all of our guests arrived I said that we were well prepared and we had all worked hard in the run up to the event.
But I also said that there would be a few curve balls that will come our way and we will be measured on how we deal with them.
On the Monday morning I got a call at seven O’clock to say that Frankie [Frankie Gair-Ed], my right hand lady, had put her back out, so for two days she couldn’t move and then there was the hotel boiler going down and I mentioned earlier our keynote speaker didn’t turn up.
Then Steve [Steve Auston-Ed], my Director of Logistics was given the news that his mother had been taken into hospital and was very poorly. He could have been called away at any moment. However, all these things go on behind the scenes and hopefully our guests would never have known.
For my team we are ‘onsite’ for 10 days, which is a long time. They all stood up to the challenge and I am so very proud of each and every one of them.
[Above: Markus Stauss from Coty takes a pose with winner Gemma Brinkley]
So is there anyone else you want to thank?
Yes please. Thanks to everyone who supports ISPY in one way or another. A special thank you of course to all of our sponsors, who fully understand what they are paying for. They are investing in the development of those who sell their products and they love getting swept up with the enthusiasm and quest for knowledge from the crew.
So are you personally still enjoying it all as much as you used to?
I enjoyed the Friday night gala awards evening this year more than any other. I felt privileged to ‘host’ the evening’s presentations and to see the sheer delight on the winner’s faces is enough motivation to keep me going (for another year at least)
You know Doug, inflight retail is the smallest sector within travel retail and often regarded as the poor relation. However, I think with regards to industry training, reward and recognition we are leading the way.
[Above: Christine Martin MD, TRT]
I would love to see a few senior commercial airline guys, or even the odd CEO just come down and see the sheer level of motivation that there is at ISPY…
Well we do and one in particular is Carl Gissing [Director of Customer Services Thomson Airways-Ed] and he is a huge supporter.
Some airlines rule or manage their crew with a rod of iron and through fear, but ISPY is testimony to the fact that you don’t have to do that.
People who feel valued add value. It’s not rocket science.