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A Customer Service Champ February 26, 2007

Posted by Kira in Customer Service, Networks, Organizational Culture, Organizational Design.

Just after I read Elaine’s post on Jet Blue, I found an article on Southwest’s customer service.  In December, Bob Emig, a frequent Southwest customer, ended up waiting on the runway for 5 hours after the scheduled departure time due to the plane having to be de-iced twice.  This seems like it would be another customer service disaster like Jet Blue, but as it turns out it was the exact opposite of a disaster.  While stuck on the runway, the pilot walked the aisles answering questions and offering updates while the flight attendants kept passengers updated on new connecting flights.  Within a few days of the incident, Southwest sent a letter with two free round-trip ticket vouchers.

This was not unusual customer service for Southwest nor just a rush to fix the dilemma.  “Rather, it was standard procedure for Southwest Airlines, which almost six years ago created a new high-level job that oversees all proactive customer communications with customers.”  It is Fred Taylor’s job at Southwest to coordinate information that is sent to all frontline representatives in the event of a major flight disruption.   He also sends out letters and flight vouchers to customers caught in storms, air traffic, and other travel messes whether or not the situation was in Southwest’s control.  According to Taylor, “it’s not something we had to do.  It’s just something we feel our customers deserve.”  For Southwest, customer service goes beyond the employees directly in contact with customers; “it takes coordination from the top, bringing together people, management, technology, and processes to put customers’ needs first.”

I think this is a great example of providing customer service unlike Jet Blue’s recent blooper.  When travelers are in situations that shake their nerves, they want to know that they will be taken care of.  I think that customer service is one of the best and few ways that a company can truly differentiate itself and remain competitive in today’s business world.  Southwest has recognized that customer service is not just a quick fix apology, but is embedded in their structure and culture starting from the top of the organization.  As I learned in marketing, there are many points of customer service and contact that need to be monitored.   Southwest is very wise to have someone in a high-level position to oversee and coordinate all the points of customer service/contact throughout the organization.  I am curious as to how exactly Taylor goes about getting the company to coordinate in order to put customers’ needs first.  What kind of structure does the company have?  Do they use networks to increase the flow of information?  If so, what kind of network do they have in place?




1. Brian Mulligan - February 28, 2007

Interesting blog post. We did a case study in marketing last year about Southwest, so I understand their marketing/business model of catering to the customer, while creating affordable airfaires. As for their busines model, they seem to have a more routine model. They have established rules and regulations that they follow in a customer based business model. As you mentioned, the rule about the wait was established six years ago. They probably have a very structured organizational model with information flow coming directly from the people who interact with the customers upward to the management, who make the decisions about how to make the customer’s experience more enjoyable while increasing effciency and profitability. The changes are implimented through the call centers, the service desk, the flight attendants and the website to help inform the customer.

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