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Being Proactive - The Next Generation of Customer Service, Part Five

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 (In the first installment, I outlined the need for Proactive Customer Service; in the second, we drilled down a bit deeper into how that is accomplished; in the third, we looked at the key elements to effective communication; and in the fourth posting of this series, I demonstrated how my Team "walks the talk.'  In this last posting about "Being Proactive," I'll share with you the fruits of our labor.) The Benefits of Proactive Customer Service The End Result We always try to create the "WOW!" Factor with our Proactive Customer Service Product. Southwest Airlines spends a lot of time, energy, and resources trying to make sure that our Customers feel good about selecting our product before they go to the airport; once they step onboard our LUV Jets; and even after they get home.  What my Team tries to do is roll all of the Company's efforts into one proactive communication piece that is sent to our Customers before they contact us-I call this completing the Customer Service Loop. Many times, when we reach out to them, our Customers are shocked to receive our open and sincere acknowledgment of their concern.  They are impressed that we took the time to provide them with a quality response.  And, they appreciate our effort to make them feel better about their experience with Southwest Airlines. To this end, the benefits of being proactive are enormous.  First, all Employees are up-to-speed on what's happening, and what is our Customer Service gameplan.  This helps our Employees feel empowered to step up and assist our Customers when they might otherwise feel compelled to count on another department to help.  Second, our Customers will be given timely and consistent information about our operation and accommodations.  This helps our Customers relax and instills confidence in the product we work so hard to provide.  Third, when we complete the Customer Service Loop, it lets everyone know that we care about them, and we are committed to providing the best service imaginable.  Fourth, there is a positive return on investment in terms of Customer goodwill and product loyalty. Finally, I know our proactive correspondence works because my Team gets a lot of positive responses from our Customers every day.  Also, our proactive approach has been featured in Business Week, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal; international news publications, and on three television networks (to name just a few).  And all of this, of course, is a very satisfying reward for our hard work and dedicated effort to provide Positively Outrageous Customer Service, but the best reward is your continued patronage.
8 Comments
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The new restrictions and limitations on Rapid Rewards travel are ridiculous. The appeal of award travel was the main draw to Southwest but it no longer exists. One will need 32 credits, which is 16 roundtrip flights to earn a Freedom Award (a Standard award is becoming more and more useless with the amount of limitations and restrictions they put on it). 16 roundtrips...that is just crazy. And then on top of that, beginning in 2009 a Freedom award will no longer be able to book a flight on ANY holiday weekend. I would rather deal with the hassle and big-egos of the big airlines. And this is just what I will do, as I have vowed not to fly SWA EVER again. There is no point!!!! So I am done. And I will be informing everyone I know of these major inconveniences SWA has placed on award travel and voice my displeasure.
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Customer service at Southwest failed me today, I am an A list passanger, yet I get a "B" boarding pass, so I call and Angie at Customer Service tells me she cannot help me, she doesn't know why I got a B boarding pass. (It seems that my Rapid Reward number in the system was different eventhough the data is correct in www.southwest.com). She told me that eventhough only 26 people had checked in, they could not delete the boarding pass aleready received and give me an A pass. What a crock... I even printed out the pass 24 hours in advance.,, You guys are supposed to reserve our place in line. My flight is 02-21-08 after 5PM. I hope that you can get your Customer Service Act togeter by then and relpy to my email.
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Customer service also failed me and my family on our flight from Providence to Tampa. I have never been so frustrated and angry at an airline. It started with a phone call to SWA two days prior to our flight asking if I could get seating assignments for myself and my three children, twins 10 years of age and my daughter 12. The woman I spoke with said that seating assignments are given at the airport. Having never flown SWA I had no idea about the "open seating" or checking in on line. We show up at the airport one and 1/2 hours before the flight and are told that we should have gone online to get boarding passes. I asked the man if we would be able to sit together and he said they would work it out at the gate. Of course we were in the C boarding group. We get to the gate and they tell me I have to board in the C group and that my children "look old enough to sit by themselves". Another woman walked up to the desk at the gate, with two children (who looked about the age of my children). The woman was allowed to board before her children in the A group so she could seat her family together. Needless to say we boarded next to last. My twins were seated in the back separately each between two older gentlemen. I was seated in the middle of the plane my daughter was seated in the front of the plane with an older couple. We were not even in the same general area of the plane. There was no attempt by the flight attendents to help seat us together, none whatsoever. I was also told "I could get on another flight but it would not be until tomorrow" and "people will not move for older children". I would say that you need to take another look at your boarding policies for families. I could care less where I sit on the plane just so I am sitting where I acn keep an eye on my children. I felt very uncomfortable leaving each child to fend for themselves on a three 1/2 hour flight sitting next to people they do not know. They could have at least attempted to seat us in the general area. To sum it up the Customer Service of SWA was "Positively Outragously" bad. In fact I would say we were treated poorly and were misinformed through the whole ordeal.
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Just an add to my Customer Service story. It seems Southwest employees at the airport don't know the rules for A-List passengers. When I asked people at the gate how it could happen, they said "well A-List expires after sometime" I told them that I knew that and it was a YEAR and since the program had only been in place since November, it was impossible for any A-List people to have their A-List expire. They then tried to tell me that if I was on the A-List I would have something printed on the BACK of my boarding pass. It was almost like the SWA employees have never seen the boarding pass (Of course they don't need to board with the rest of the cattle because they can get on the plane before anyone else.) I believe that customer service in SWA has become a joke. They don't do email, you can not get someone to help on the phone and when you talk to people in person, it is obvious that they have NEVER done anything but look up the flight time on the compute, print out boarding passes, and announce a memorized statement over loudspeakers.
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Fred, I have a suggestion for proactive customer service. If you book a trip with a LUV voucher that's expiring soon, and use some of your own money as well, the new money gets the old expiration date, meaning that if you cancel the trip, you can't re-apply the money you paid to another trip past the original voucher's expiration. This is Southwest's policy, and the road warriors on this blog may know it well, but it's not made clear when a newer customer to Southwest is trying to use a LUV voucher. I ran into this where I booked a trip one month ago partly with a voucher and then some additional money, and the voucher expires today. When I cancelled the trip, I discovered not only did the voucher money expire today (not a surprise), but that the new money did as well. This is a good opportunity for proactive customer service: why not have a box on the booking screen that says "Please note: the $70 you are putting on this from your credit card will be subject to the same expiration date as your LUV voucher of 2/28/08. That means if you cancel this trip, you will only have until 2/28/08 to use the money." Or something like that. If you do this, you can prepare customers for this surprising behavior and prevent a lot of customers being angry at Southwest when they find out their payment is expiring in only a month. (Or, better yet, fix the system so this doesn't happen, but if you do want to keep the policy, please proactively ensure that people know about the policy.)
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Dear Fred, You will soon be receiving a letter from me detailing my unfortunate experience with Southwest today. I'm actually writing this from Denver Airport right now - at least they are considerate enough to take care of their customers here with free Internet. In short, I really want to get home to see my wife and dog. I awoke at 5am to take an earlier flight to BWI just to see them sooner. I asked the ticket agent if there was any room on the 845am flight, and there was plenty she said. I told her that I didn't want to wait until the 145pm flight and I would like to help SW out by being on an earlier plane, thus opening up my seat at that later time which you may need due to the usual difficult weather in Denver. Despite logical reasoning, the capacity to fill my need and address one of SW's, all three SW employees I plead my case to were rigid. All three stated that Herb would prefer I pay a $228 upgrade fee for the "privilege" of flying earlier. Each stated that "lots of business travelers fly our airline and pay full fare" despite my argument that I've never in my life heard of or known anyone to fly SW for the privilege of paying full fare. SW customers, business and recreational, fly SW for the fun of the experience, the low cost fares, and the general ease of customer experience. All that seems to have changed now. SW is just another profit-only focused airline. If you'd like to retain me as a happy customer (and no doubt countless other formerly happy SW customers) in these economic times where customer retention is the difference between success and failure, and between the old SW and every other airline, you would be well served to start thinking about the customer first again. Now that would be proactive customers service. Regards, M C Oxley
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I'm so dissapointed with Southwest today. I've been a long time customer and fly Southwest as often as I can. Two days ago I checked flight availability for a flight to Buffalo 3 months from now. All flights showed open. I transfered points from Amex to make the reservation, today the transfer went through and i tried to make the reservation. Of course no seats are available for ANY flight.. Mind you, two days ago every flight was available. Unless I want to use double the credits for a freedom award!! I never heard of the freedom award but to me it looks like a cheep trick to cut the value of the frequency program in half! I guess the last of the good airlines has bit the dust!
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We got a dose of your proactive customer service recently and our admiration and respect for your company has increased even more as a result. We flew Southwest from San Francisco to Phoenix on June 14. Shortly after reaching crusing altitude, the left engine shut down. The Captain calmly told everyone what had happened and informed us that we were being diverted to Los Angeles, where we would be put aboard another plane for Phoenix. That's where Southwest's proactive customer service began. When we landed in Los Angeles, we were directed to a nearby gate where we soon boarded another Southwest plane and took off for Phoenix. We arrived at our destination less than two hours late, which was incredible considering all the effort that was required to switch planes, gates, and passengers. Most importantly, we arrived safely! We were completely impressed with the way we were treated, the service we received, and the professionalism of everyone at Southwest. Several days later when we returned home, letters were waiting for us from Southwest explaining what had happened, appologizing for any inconveniences, and offering a voucher for a future flight on Southwest. You can be sure that we will continue to fly Southwest, and that we will tell our friends and family how well we were treated. With the rising cost of fuel, we have experienced dramatic decreases in service from every other airline we have flown, but not with Southwest. Your concern for your customers' well being and your proactive customer service is exemplary! Thank you for all you do to make flying fun! Sincerely, Dale Fehringer and Patty McCrary San Francisco