Customer Service With a Smile (For Real)

As somewhat related to my post about how offline experiences can influence those online, I'm going to dish a bit about customer service.  We work with clients who have products or services that potential customers (understandably) want to explore more holistically before choosing, so we may suggest their linking to/exploring the places where chatter about them might already exist -- like GetSatisfaction or Rate-it-All -- to help promote acceptance through transparency. And, on the flip side, it has the potential for companies to learn and grow based on the honest feedback being exchanged out there.

Southwest Airlines has been an early adopter of social marketing strategies, using Twitter and blogging religiously, and continues to forge itself as a rather personable airline that strives for that transparency.  I have been flying it whenever possible -- or, at least since Independence Air folded, sniff sniff -- for a great combination of low fares and friendly staffers.  Twice now I've been on flights where an employee has sung to us.  And, last night, after being diverted BACK to Baltimore having being told not to land on Cleveland's ice-covered runway (good idea), the ground staff re-fueled the plane and then hopped onboard to announce, "I hope we don't see you here again tonight. No offense." 

None taken.

Well, we didn't see Baltimore again, but we didn't see Cleveland, either.

Our second attempt to land in Cleveland from Baltimore was diverted at 2 am (original landing time was supposed to be 9:20 pm) from the turbulent skies near Lake Erie to the calmer clouds of Columbus, Ohio.  My plans, like everyone's around me, went from being inconveniently delayed to officially busted.  When I learned that the only flight to Cleveland wasn't until 11 the following morning, I decided against waiting behind about 50 people in line at the customer service counter and, instead, found a nearby hotel to sleep off the tough travel experience and hope Southwest's customer service would be fair when I called the next day.

With so many companies promising great service and quality products outwardly online, only to then seem terse and unhelpful -- or non-existent -- when problems arise, I feared the worst.  I really didn't want to have to stop flying Southwest.  Lucky for me, I don't.  When I called their customer service number, a human IMMEDIATELY picked up the phone and greeted me pleasantly, but not in an overly perky way that could potentially annoy an angry customer. She quietly listened to my saga, apologized for my less-than-stellar experience, and asked to put me on hold briefly before returning moments later with news of a flight refund in the form of a voucher good for one year.  This is probably pretty standard, and it definitely covers the cost of my hotel room with ease, but potentially more important to me was the empathy I perceived from her and the speed to which she addressed my situation.  Whether it was just this particular representative, or (as I suspect) was organizationally driven, talking to someone who seemed open to helping me made me proud to be a loyal customer. 

Southwest's rather bare-bones website isn't impressive, but it gets me booked easily into a seat so I can see their happy staffers and no-fee policies for myself.  Coupled with their social media participation online and responsive customer service offline, I'd argue that their end-to-end strategy is the definition of attentive and cyclical.

The entire call lasted five minutes, but my business will last much longer.

(But here's to a return flight this weekend that proves less dramatic!)

Stephanie Hay

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Posted in Article Category: #Design & Content
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