Sunday, August 12, 2012

Southwest Pre-Emptive Customer Service

Airline customer service is usually nothing to write home about.  It's not cable TV bad, but it also rarely impresses you.  And it makes sense, because most of the time when we buy plane tickets we're really just looking for the cheapest way to get where we're going and don't pick an airline based on other dimensions (like staff not treating you like total garbage)

So service might not be a huge deal to the airlines, but it's nice to at least get one experience that leaves you feeling like the company actually values your business.

I had an instance last week that I thought was particularly impressive.

Obviously since joining the consulting world, I've flown quite a bit with a variety of airlines, and there have been plenty of times when I've sat on a tarmac for extended periods.  Weather delays, maintenance, all kinds of things have occasionally conspired to keep me from getting home on a Thursday night.

But usually, when something like that happens, the very next day I'll write an email to the airline's customer service department for a formal complaint.

I keep things extremely nice and professionally-worded, like how I imagine a high-priced attorney would write out such a thing for me if I paid them a bunch.  I make sure it's very specific, calling out specific flight numbers, routes, and exactly what disappointed me.  Then I typically reiterate my level of business with the airline and how I could very easily switch carriers.  And then I send it off for what I hope will be a response that includes money for future flights.

The airlines are usually responsive if the situation is their fault (I still haven't asked an airline to reimburse me because of bad weather, because I have yet to fly on an airline with the power of God).  The responses range in terms of compensation, but they'll typically throw me a bone if nothing else.  At the high end I've gotten $100-$150 credits for future flights, and then at the low end there's American who gave me a couple thousand miles for two hours on the tarmac.

My wife has even extracted $150 for having a broken reading light.  So this thing definitely works, and apparently if you get the right service representative it can REALLY work.

But last week was the first instance of an airline actually reaching out to me BEFORE I even had the chance to complain.

My wife and I flew Southwest from Chicago to Philadelphia for the weekend to visit family, and then on the way back, we were stuck on the plane for a couple hours in Philadelphia. 

It was definitely not fun, as I'm sure you could imagine.

So I filed it away in my travel grievance memory bank, with the full intention of emailing Southwest the next day with my standard issue complaint template.

But then I work up to see the following email:

Greetings from Southwest Airlines:                          
The thunderstorms that came through the East Coast last night were rough, and I’m so sorry your flight got caught up in the middle of it before being able to depart from Philadelphia. On behalf of the Employees who were working with you yesterday at the gate and on the plane, I want to say “thank you” for your patience and cooperation throughout such a frustrating experience.
As a gesture of goodwill and a means of encouraging you to fly with us again, I’m sending a Southwest LUV Voucher*, which I invite you to use toward the purchase of a future reservation—I’m confident (weather permitting) that you’ll have the kind of ontime experience you’ve come to expect when you travel with Southwest Airlines. Your patronage is important to us, and we look forward to sharing the friendly skies with you again soon.


Later that week I got two vouchers (one for my wife and one for me), each for $75.  Could I complain about the low financial reward?  Maybe.  But honestly, this was completely out of the blue and as such, was a hugely positive surprise.

The amount, honestly, is a little immaterial.  What I thought was even more impressive was that they just did it without any prompting from me, and I've never had another airline do that when I've been stuck on their plane for an extended period.

So thanks Southwest, good to see someone cares about trying to keep the customers happy.

No comments: