Give customers what they want

Turn Around TimeSouthwest Airlines topped all of their rivals again in the American Customer Satisfaction Index produced by the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Whereas the average for competitive airline competition scored in the 65 percent ranging (dropping by 1.5 percent) on a 100 point scale, Southwest scored an 81, and it’s the 18th straight year they’ve been at the top.

Most complaints were about higher fares, higher prices, and how customers overwhelmingly feel they are getting less for their money. Now in organizations based on strict FAA regulations, safety standards, and planned flight routes, etc., travelers are generally disgruntled over the lack of integrity and the lack of customer service.

For example, Southwest has always been a no-frills airline, yet they still do not charge baggage fees, and the company openly promotes that particular perk. Fares offered from as low as $40 bring interest and increased ticket sales. In comparison, who isn’t complaining about increased bag fees, and in the case of Continental Airlines, the complimentary in-flight meals canceled with a rise in fares makes the travel experience worse and worse. Premium paying business travelers are the least satisfied, and business travelers are the majority of an airline’s business.

So even though the airlines in general seldom respond to complaints of unreliability, late flights, lack of amenities, or a profound lapse of customer service, what can we glean from their mistakes, and what can we learn from the continued success of Southwest?

  • When competition is keen, concentrate on doing something completely different from your competition to make an impact. On Southwest, a passenger can take two free bags on board; their policy has been consistent. In a local woman’s clothing store boutique, the owner is now offering free alterations for the next few months.
  • Customer service has to be consistent. Reservations have become an a la carte schedule of more and more ridiculous charges that passengers now find offensive – from extra charges to sitting in an aisle seat to a charge for pillows and blankets. Customers are offended when an organization raises prices and still takes away services once associated with the business. Diners stopped going to a local restaurant when they increased their prices,and cut the portions.
  • Customer experiences have to be positive. On-flight service, on time take-offs when there are no weather barriers, and customer recognition when there is a problem. In local businesses, customers want service to be effortless.
  • Customer appreciation – doesn’t that just say it all?

photo credit: StuSeeger