For our last class, we read a case study about Southwest Airlines, which was really interesting because it showed how a company struggles to implement new IT structures but at the same time remains loyal to its former values. And one of these values is customer service. Even though Southwest Airlines is a low cost airline, it is one of the few with really great and special customer service. The company knows that this is what makes them remarkable and sets them apart from the competition. They even look for people with a complementing attitude already in the hiring process. Therefore it is no surprise, that in 2005 and again in 2008 The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) recognized Southwest Airlines as leading the industry in customer satisfaction. The ACSI, conducted by the University of Michigan, independently tracks customer satisfaction levels by measuring the household consumption experience.
In the case study it was shown, that Southwest invested a whole lot of time and money into updating the company to keep up with the enormous amount of competition. Because the competition is big and growing stronger. Some time ago, business people who had to travel regularly and had to be able to rely on the airlines just smiled at low-cost airlines and then chose the bigger established companies like Lufthansa or American Airlines. And at that time, they were probably right: paying more meant getting better service. But now, the trend changes. These big airlines just relied on their reputation and didn’t invest more in customer service than absolutely necessary. A parallel new trend appeared in this time: Because of the lowcost airlines, more and more people could afford to fly, nowadays it’s cheaper to fly from Berlin to London than to take the train from Berlin to Munich! The people that buy these cheap tickets at airlines without a prestigious name obviously didn’t expect to get as much as the people who paid for an established airline – because that’s the way our logic works! But they were surprised: The employees of the lowcost airlines seemed to be eager to help and happy to show them their way, whereas the employees of renomated airlines seemed stressed out and annoyed when asked. Of course this is just a general impression, but it is what you can find on a lot of online blogs concerning the discussion on which airlines are the best. So now even more and more business traveler switch to lowcost airlines from time to time.
This shows that with its emphasis on customer service, which seemed a bit overstated and extravagent at the beginning, Soutwest did exactly the right thing to secure its future. After all, 34 consecutive years of profit don’t come from nothing.
A very impressive story I found online is, that a pilot from American Airlines stopped a flight from leaving ground to wait for a man who lost his 3 year old grandson. The pilot made the plane wait for 12 minutes, so the man could say his goodbyes and make the flight. These are the kind of stories you remember and tell others about. And these are the kind of stories, which you consider when you book your next flight.
When I planned my first longer trip alone, I wasn’t that lucky that the pilot waited for me. Because I wasn’t an experienced flyer at that time, I chose Austrian airlines, because I expected that to be a good compromise. Pay a medium price, but basically fly with Lufthansa. However, I was wrong. I was supposed to fly from Moscow to Hamburg. As said, that was one of the first flights I made on my own, in a country whose language I barely understand and from a huge, huge airport with the strictest safety controls I have ever seen. So because of all of these things, and yes I may have been a bit stupid, maybe others would have been able to deal with this stress better, I missed my flight home. Obviously, I was totally out of my mind. Because to add a nice touch to it, that was the day I HAD to leave, because it was the day my visa ended. I already saw myself in Russian prison never to return again. So I tried to explain my problem to a stewardess. All she said: Oh then it was because of YOU the plane had to wait 5 minutes, do you know what that COST us? Not that I wasn’t already crying by that time anyway. After that I went all the way back to a help counter, where the guy had real difficulties talking to me in English. Great. Then a miracle happened, and the man behind me approached me and talked to me in German and told me he will help me! He is a frequent flyer, so he has millions of bonus miles. But no, of course Austrian Airlines wouldn’t let him buy a ticket with those bonus miles for me, not even with a discount. So I had to buy a new ticket. And not only from Moscow to Vienna, from where I could have reached my original Vienna – Hamburg flight without any difficulties, but no, I had to get a SECOND ticket for the Vienna-Hamburg flight. Policies. If you don’t board onto the first flight, you can’t use the second one. Now you might say, well if that’s their policy and if you are so stupid as to miss your flight, maybe paying an enormously high price for a last minute flight ticket and for a flight you already have a ticket for is just the lesson you have to learn. But I say, I was a 17 years old crying German girl in a foreign city. Couldn’t an airline that DEPENDS on happy customers show a little bit of obligingness? If they thought about their future just a tiny bit, they would, because I for one will never set foot on an Austrian Airlines plane ever again.