If you’ve flown lately, you know the drill: long lines, delayed flights and higher ticket prices. Consumers have come to expect no less, and no more, from air travel.
Even without the stress from a struggling economy, air travel in particular tends to bring about discomfort, dissatisfaction and anxiety, both for employees and for customers.
“It seems like people become inhuman in the context of air travel,” customer service consultant and trainer Bob Davis-Mayo told CRM Buyer. Davis-Mayo’s Denver-based company, Davis-Mayo Associates, provides customer service, management and performance training to employees in a variety of industries, including around 416,000 airline employees. “It’s a disorienting experience for people. They’re out of their comfort zone, and they try to deal with it.”
Add staff cutbacks, higher ticket prices, and beefed-up security to the mix, and you’re looking at a volatile situation. Airlines, however, can buck the trend, and they can do it by putting in the extra mile when it comes to customer service.
The Employee-Customer Connection
Happy employees lead to happy customers. At least, that’s the mantra of some customer service specialists, and it’s a philosophy that can lead to improved relations with customers.
“There’s a direct correlation between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction,” Davis-Mayo said.
Davis-Mayo emphasizes, in particular, the importance of balance. Employees need to be mentally and emotionally strong in order to impart a sense of comfort to the customers they serve.
“As a service person it’s your job to be balanced,” Davis-Mayo said. “And one of the keys [to good customer service] is to invite your customer into balance.”
Agents can’t solve all of a customer’s problems, but they can help them to feel better, and more balanced, about their situation, Davis-Mayo emphasizes.
“You’ll never satisfy the customer, but you can help them feel cared for,” Davis-Mayo said. “It’s all about customer loyalty. They need to think they can trust you and that you care.”
Kevin and Jackie Freiberg, authors of BOOM! 7 Choices for Blowing the Doors Off Business-As-Usual, agree that happy, balanced employees are better able to serve customers.
“The kind of service and relations that a customer receives is usually a direct result of the internal service or brand of a company,” the Freibergs told CRM Buyer. “In other words, how you treat/relate/serve your employees is how they will treat/relate/serve the customer.”
One company that has won awards and received recognition for its customer service strategies is Continental Airlines.
“We have a special company culture at Continental which other airlines have not been able to emulate,” Continental Airlines’ Director of Corporate Communications Dave Messing told CRM Buyer. “We have a spirit of working together, which translates into better service for our customers because we have employees who enjoy coming to work and doing their jobs. So much of your experience as a traveler is dependent on your interactions with the airline staff, and we are handling that part of customer service better than anyone.”
Another component of airline customer service is the products that are offered.
“Our core product offering is delivering ‘clean, safe and reliable’ transportation,” Messing said. “We add on to that by giving special recognition and services to ‘Elite’ travelers — our frequent flyers — and delivering excellent high-end services like our international BusinessFirst business class cabin.”
Not every traveler is elite, however; some are just looking for a good deal, without sacrificing service.
“For the other category of traveler, who is mainly shopping for airline tickets based on price alone, we are doing a good job of keeping a lot of value built into our customer service — serving meals at mealtimes, free pillows and blankets, etc.,” Messing said.
Some airlines, such as Southwest Airlines, apply the principle of treating employees well in order to encourage them to treat customers well.
“Southwest hires for skill and attitude — fun and service are high on the screening list — and they give people the freedom to play to their genius — do what they love, do what they are good at and do what ultimately needs to be done — within the confines of strict FAA regulations,” the Freibergs told CRM Buyer. “The golden rule — treat others how they want to be treated, and they start with the employees — is deeply rooted in the Southwest culture.”
Virgin America, a relative newcomer to the scene, also prides itself on good customer service, as well as luxurious amenities that can help improve the mood and experience of its customers. The airline offers custom-designed leather seats and 12 shades of cabin mood lighting that transition based on outside light and are designed to soothe, relax and ease jet lag, and soon it will be launching in-flight WiFi service.
“Virgin America was founded on the ideal of providing excellent service in an industry that is notorious for poor customer service,” Devon Carey, public relations and events manager for Virgin America, told CRM Buyer. “The aim at Virgin America was to build an airline from the ground up with an almost maniacal focus on the customer and the guest experience. We have excellent teammates who enjoy their jobs and thrive on the customer’s great experience on our airline.”