Southwest Airline’s fame is well deserved

southwest

I was looking forward to our holiday in California, and to participate in the Modern Customer Experience conference, in Las Vegas. For all sorts of (obvious) reasons. One of them was that I booked two flights with Southwest Airlines (SFO > LAS, and LAS > LAX).

For those who don’t know Southwest Airlines is mentioned as an example, and a success, in several Customer Experience books. It is recognised to be the best airline in the world, when it comes to Customer Service, Experience and Loyalty.

The Airlines’s advocates love it so much that in 2001, after the terrorist attacks in the World Trade Centre, Southwest received thousands of letters from customers who wanted to make sure the company would stay in business. Many of those customers sent checks with the letters. Others returned traveller vouchers.

I had no doubt that the experience was going to be good, but I wanted to experience more. I wanted to experience Southwest in action when things go wrong. To prove that what I read in the books was true. But what if all went well with our flights and travels? Well, the truth is it didn’t really…

When trying to check-in to the SFO > LAS flight, via the mobile app, it said my reservation was cancelled. So I reached out to Southwest via Twitter, on our way to the airport. The response came back in 27 mins. And 5 mins later, after I provided my booking reference via DM, Jennifer had checked us in, even before we got to the airport.

One week later we got to the airport 4 hours before our 15:40 LAS > LAX flight, so I asked at the check-in desk how much would it cost to go in an earlier flight… “Your flight to LAX is delayed 20 mins so I will put you in the stand-by list for the 12:55 flight free of charge. If that one is full you will be also on the stand-by list for the 13:55 flight”. We were called to the 12:55 flight.

We were truly delighted with the customer service, and I decided to praise Southwest on Twitter, whilst I was at the gate. In a matter of minutes, Adam replied back, asked which was our flight, and gave us a treat (a code for free WiFi on the flight), even before take-off.

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So… the stories are true, and Southwest’s fame is indeed deserved. As they seem to have a big focus on the customer, the experience they deliver, and the service they provide. And the good thing is that some times it doesn’t take much. Small and subtle things make the Customer Experience great. Some good examples below, related to our experience.

Southwest doesn’t try to make (what in CX terms we call) “bad profit“. Each passenger is allowed two pieces of checked luggage free of charge (up to 50 pounds), and a carry-on bag plus a personal item (e.g. backpack, purse). And, if for some reason (even when it is not their fault) there is a delay in a flight, they pro-actively put passengers in earlier flights (or in stand-by lists) free of charge.

Southwest operates as a whole when it comes to customer service. They decided to be there, immediately responsive, on the channel that is most convenient to the client, and they decided to trust the customer, removing all the policies and barriers, resolving issues within minutes, without hassling with too many questions. Moreover, they decided to empower their staff, letting them decide when and where to give goodwill and turn customers into advocates.

Don’t censor your critics, thank them!

One of the key steps to deliver a better Customer Experience is to listen to what the customers have to say and, on top of that, be responsive.

Today, social media is the main location for complaints or praises. And it has been, without any question, the most potent amplifier of customer voicing in recent years. Customers go to Twitter, Facebook, Blogs or review sites to share experiences.

Things that before would require loads of power, people, money, media lobbying, and huge marketing campaigns, are now created, organised, amplified and spread much more efficiently and quickly by the use of a #hashtag.

And it does not matter how insignificant is the customer and how big is the company. Everyone, including the media, loves a good David vs Goliath story. By default, everyone is sympathetic with the weak customer and distrusts the powerful company.

Companies cannot afford to ignore this explosion and this change. And today’s hyper-competitive and hyper-connected world demands presence, monitoring, accountability and responsiveness.

Customer’s feedback, either positive or negative, is invaluable, as it offers companies a veracious and real sense of how they are performing. And it is also one of the main ingredients of the perception that others (potential customers) have of the company in question.

But more importantly, customer’s feedback offer companies the possibility to turn around a bad experience, or to thank and amplify a praise for a good experience.

If companies do not listen to an unsatisfied customer, they are not only losing the opportunity of making it right (and most likely lose the customer forever), they are also letting the customer damage the company’s image and influence other’s perceptions.

And remember that the new world of media has shown us that truth is many times less important than people’s perception of the truth. A person or group can create a crisis over a false issue or an issue that no one has never thought about.

On the other hand, if companies do not listen to a loyal customer, they are losing the opportunity of capitalising on a good story, making the customer feel valuable, integrated in the process and part of the company, and possibly turning this customer into an advocate.

Voice-of-the-customer when captured, reviewed, analysed and evaluated, helps companies to identify trends, business opportunities, service needs, and sometimes even innovations for its products and services.

It is much faster to discover faults or bugs in a product from immediate customer feedback, than waiting for the poor quarterly sales results. Contrariwise, positive feedback gives potential customers a validation for their decision.

Take the example of two beloved companies, that score very high in Customer Experience rankings. Southwest Airlines and Dell. They don’t censor critics, they thank them.