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

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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 and looked at some rules of thumb.  Here are the key elements of effective proactive communication, "according to Fred.".) Proactive Communication 24/7/365 Commitment Proactive communication isn't a nine to five, Monday through Friday, job. Being a proactive communicator requires being ready to act no matter where you are or what you are doing-this is the most important aspect about providing truly proactive Customer Service and proactive communication. The Apology Don't be afraid to say "I'm sorry." People often misunderstand the intent of an apology.  It is not an admission of fault.  It's an acknowledgment of a bad experience-no matter what happened.  It's doesn't mean the Customer is always right-there's no need to support, tolerate, or reward abusive behavior. When things don't go according to plan, an apology provides the opportunity to offer the Customer an assurance that you care about their feelings.  An apology lets you reach out to the Customers who are affected by acknowledging the disruption/inconvenience, offering your assistance, providing an explanation, and letting them know you're working to prevent a repeat performance (if applicable).  If you don't know the answer to a question, it's okay to admit that-just don't speculate and be sure you let the Customer know that you will try to provide them with an answer within a reasonable timeframe. Heartfelt, Homespun Correspondence Form letters don't cut it. Customers can smell insincerity from a mile away.  Impersonal form letters and/or cookie-cutter responses water down your product.  If that's the impression you want to convey, then so be it.  However, half-hearted efforts, at best, increase frustration-or worse, cost you a Customer. Passion to Serve You have to have the desire to try to settle the Customer's concern using all of the suggestions that I offered up previously.  You have to be flexible in order to find and provide a reasonable solution.  You have to have confidence in being humble-all of the time.  And, you have to have a good sense of humor.  (In my next posting, I'll show you how our Team "walks the talk" with our proactive efforts.)
9 Comments
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Fred - Great comments and I think these are all reasons that Southwest is tops in the customer service field. I know that you and your team follow these principles, but so do front line CSAs and Ops Agents. I know that flights may be delayed for whatever reason, but some airlines don't understand that just sympathizing a bit makes a Customer feel much better. (Of course, they also don't feel the need to capitalize Customer.) Although I've never had the occasion to write about an unfavorable Southwest trip (because I've never had one!), I'm sure I would appreciate that you would write me a personal letter. Some of your competitors (like an unnamed legacy carrier) might try that next time...a 1 paragraph response generally is inadequate to address a 3 page letter. Bravo to you and your Team for the work you do, and the principles you bring to Southwest.
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I really admire you all for supporting the Salvation Army! Keep up the good work!!!
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The next generation of customer service at Southwest is bleak. I'm sitting on one of your planes now and I'm livid. The new family boarding policy is horrible. Its unclear how it now works, you only get notification of the change until half the plane is boarded. I have a 2 year old and while I'm in aisle trying to get him settled, your attendant is rushing me! Unexceptable. Southwest is no longer family friendly. And, ill do my best to make sure everyone knows it. IF you want to do business class, do it right. Have assigned seating. How can families sit together if the plane is half full when we board? So disappointing!
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Mattceni, I am so sorry to hear of your disappointment. The new boarding procedures have been in place since the middle of November, and they have been widely discussed here on the blog--we have three posts devoted specifically to the topic, the latest just last month, and we have had at least 1,000 comments on the subject. It has also been widely discussed on other blogs, but I am sorry that you found out during your trip. I hope you will give us another try, now that you are aware of the procedures, and also keep in mind that families with A boarding passes may board with the A group. Brian
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I loved watching the "Airline" episodes and am thankful I did not have some of the mishaps happen to me that I saw some go through. I am a dot com corporate employee that deals with a variety of customer service issues. I appreciate your post regarding the true meaning of an apology in these situations. Some take it personal right off the bat (meaning the service rep not the customer) and it's all down hill from there. Next month my daughter and I will be taking our very first vacation together to Florida, and will be flying Southwest. It would have been nice to meet some of the personalities from the show but I know they did not film there (or so I read). We look forward to starting our vacation with you in the very near future! Thanks for all you do. We are also very happy to hear about your new project with the Salvation Army. P.S. I am thankful for being on the other end of the phone during those most intense "customer service" issues and not face to face with an irate individual such as some we saw on the episodes! Sincerely, Pamela
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Fred - Great post. I look forward to your next installment!
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Thanks for another great post, Fred! 🙂 I'm ready for the next one. Keep up the great work, SWA! Joke for the day: What did one bank say to the other? "Will you please leave me a loan (alone)?" Ha, ha, ha! I made that up by my very own self! SWA LUV! 🙂
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I flew from Islip to Baltimore, then to Buffalo last night....my flight left Islip 15 min late- not too bad, but after we landed in Baltimore, we sat on the tarmac for another 20 min or so; all this meant that I had only 10 min to make my connection, and the gate was at the other end of the airport! I asked the attendant if the plane would be held- she replied ' I don't know anything about that'. There were at least 3 of us sitting closeby trying to make that connection, and asking what would happen. When we were finally allowed to deplane, we had to RUN! Suggestions that would cost you nothing, but make a more positive impression on your customers: ~act like you care if one of your customers is connecting to ANOTHER SW flight...make a call to an agent inside; announce the gate; have a ride waiting ~if connections are tight, ask the other passengers to remain seated while those with a tight connection are deplaned. The others will understand, and know that in future the same consideration be given to them Otherwise, your service was good. I appreciate the personal touches....although, when flights are delayed probably not best to try to make peole talk to the person next to them.....we all just want to get going- THEN, once we are going, make us laugh! 🙂
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[...] on customer service are legendary. A recent article on the company’s official blog discusses the value of apologies. Don’t be afraid to say “I’m [...]