Today is Valentine’s Day, so I figured it might be a good day to focus on love (or in the case of our lead example: LUV). Almost everyone in the customer experience strategy practice is probably familiar with the recent meltdown of Southwest Airlines. It has been documented in the media since their mass number of cancellations occurred. It certainly started as a weather-related incident but snowballed due to operational process issues and a further breakdown of the experience across many customer experience touchpoints.
There were already signs of trouble before the “big problem” showed up in the holiday season. After many years of hearing about the experiences from loyal customers – both from friends as well as through social media – I was both excited and hesitant to take my first flight with them. The occasion happened to be an inter-island flight to watch the high school playoffs. In all my years in high school and college sports, I never had the opportunity to fly to a game or match, so this added to the excitement for myself and my son – especially since he had never been to the Island of Kauai.
I had been used to a different approach to boarding the aircraft given my status with my preferred airline, but since it was supposed to be a day trip, it didn’t seem important for me to have space in the overhead bin for my luggage. However, even with a short flight, I wanted to be seated next to my son – and that is where this failure in the customer journey begins.
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If you aren’t familiar with their boarding process, I encourage you to look it up, but for those that are in the know, we checked in to board somewhat early, still with the “A” group.
I was encouraged that we would be able to sit together. As we found an empty row, my son jumped into the window seat and I took my place in the aisle seat, leaving the middle seat empty, presuming either one of us could change seats should someone need to sit in that row. Across from us, someone had a similar idea to ‘discourage’ someone from sitting right next to him by tossing a backpack in the middle seat.
With both of us in the same row, I was surprised when a flight attendant walked by (many other aisles with the same situation), then decided to stop and verbally reprimand my son and me for “blocking” people from sitting in our row by situating ourselves the way we did, while never mentioning anything to the individual who was actually “blocking” a seat.
Nonetheless, I complied with the directive and had my son sit in the middle seat until take-off, only to move back when the other seat remained empty.
For all the “LUV” I had heard about, I would have to say that my customer experience expectations were not met in this first in-person interaction (I had booked online, checked in on the mobile app and didn’t need to speak to anyone upon arrival at the airport or gate).
It could have been that anomaly, however, on the return flight, we ran into more problems. The flight was delayed without explanation for over an hour. Upon approaching the customer service agent after an extensive wait to ask if the flight would be taking off tonight (as there was still no aircraft available at the gate), I was – in my opinion – reprimanded and told that the flight would be taking off or it would have already been canceled and that an update will be coming shortly. Less than five minutes later, the same customer service agent made an announcement that the flight would be canceled due to “operational concerns”, that they could not file the staff updates for the flight that met regulatory requirements (sounds very similar to the experience most people had just six weeks later).
It was at that point that they suggested everyone go to the lobby to get a meal voucher and a flight for the next morning. Fortunately, as a seasoned traveler, my first instinct was to see if there were remaining seats available on any other flight that evening, having found one just two gates down and the customer service agent on Hawaiian Airlines processed us onto the flight despite it already being boarded.
They ticketed it as a “customer relations” cost which means we didn’t even have to pay. As we boarded last, we realized the plane was mostly empty and that many other passengers from our original flight missed the opportunity to catch a flight home because of delayed and bad information. However, Southwest Airlines might contend that at least they got a meal voucher, so they feel they closed the customer feedback loop.
The problems that plagued the airline in December were already starting to show well before then. While they have a Voice-of-the-Customer program, they do not have tools like QuestionPro’s exclusive NPS+ which would allow them to quickly drill into root cause analytics without sifting through sentiment analysis.
If their CX Enterprise Software also included a purpose-built Employee Experience measurement tool like we have with QuestionPro Workforce, that additional feedback could be tied together with our XA analytics platform.
All of this could be viewed through the customer journey map in our SuiteCX Experience Design tools and, beyond fixing one-off problems with meal vouchers, our Outer Loop tool would give them the opportunity to build out strategic changes that could be communicated from the CEO all the way down to the frontline customer service agents.
Even in an organization that large and complex, it can be done – which is why I’m with my preferred airline in most cases.
It is the day of love, so in that spirit, I will try Southwest Airlines again to see if they show me the LUV. For now, it I have to get there, I’ll fly with the airline that communicates well with me even if my expectations aren’t as high.
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