Southwest's "Customer Service Commitment"

In The American Customer Satisfaction Index at Ten Years, Claes Fornell et al cite Southwest Airlines as having consistently been the leader in customer satisfaction among airline companies. The study also notes that Southwest is the only major airline that has been consistently profitable, and that its market value is greater than the value of all other major airlines combined.

The trend continues. Southwest's net income in 2005 rose to $548 million, from $313 million in 2004. While other majors are in bankruptcy, Southwest capped 33 consecutive years of profitability with a 75% increase in net income.

Southwest seems not to be content with that, as it revised its "Customer Service Commitment" (now 28 pages) in January 2006. Some excerpts:

Our Mission Statement

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.

Foremost, we want you to know that it is never our wish to inconvenience our valued Customers. We tell our Employees we are in the Customer Service business - we just happen to provide airline transportation.

The Employees of Southwest Airlines understand our mission, and we are happy to share it, and the following information, with you, our valued Customer. Our Customer Service Commitment was designed and written in such a way as to clarify many of the most commonly questioned terms and conditions of our Contract of Carriage and provide you with insight into some of our policies and procedures. For that reason, it only made sense to make it a part of our Contract of Carriage. And, Southwest is proud to incorporate its voluntary Customer Service Commitment in its official Contract of Carriage reinforcing our pledge to provide safe, affordable, reliable, timely, courteous, and efficient air transportation and baggage handling service on every flight we operate, as well as produce a fair return on our Shareholders' investments.

Few companies bother to explain to their customers why they do things, much less go into detail about their standards, or how they deal with problems. Southwest bothers. Some examples from the Commitment:

  • Overbooking - What Is It and Why Do It? “Overbooking” means that airlines do not necessarily stop accepting reservations when they have taken enough to fill a particular airplane on a particular flight. Airlines overbook to compensate for passengers who neither cancel reservations nor show up for their confirmed flights. For example, on a flight that offers 137 seats, we may accept a small percentage of “extra” reservations because, historically, that has been the number of previously confirmed passengers, who, without notice, did not show up for the flight. If, instead, we allowed “no-show” seats to go unfilled, we would have to raise our fares in order to offset lost “no-show” revenue.
  • ... when a flight does oversell (again, it is rare), the first thing our CustomerService Agents do is ask those who have checked in if they are willing to volunteer to take a later flight. Typically, the incentives we offer result in a number of volunteers sufficient to free up the seats needed ...
  • ... If your alternate flight is scheduled to arrive at your destination or stopover point more than two hours later than your originally scheduled flight, your compensation will increase to an amount equal to twice your remaining one-way flight coupon ...
  • ... if uncontrollable circumstances cause ground delays of more than two hours, we will endeavor to: 1. Make refreshments available on request. If necessary, operationally feasible, and safe to do so, remote provisioning will remove trash and replenish depleted onboard snack and beverage service items ...
  • Our Airplanes. Southwest Airlines is the world’s largest operator of Boeing 737s. It is the only type of airplane we fly! This means that all of our Pilots, Flight Attendants, and Mechanics are expertly trained and thoroughly familiar with every airplane in our fleet. We believe our skilled professionals and our consistent, state-of-the-art fleet are two primary reasons that Southwest Airlines has one of the best operational safety records in the worldwide airline industry.
  • Baggage Handling. Southwest has maintained one of the best cumulative baggage-handling records in our industry. We do everything humanly possible to ensure that the items you entrust into our care are loaded onto the same plane you board and returned to you promptly at your destination. We know that your belongings are important and valuable to you.
  • Infants and Toddlers. Currently, federal air safety regulations allow children younger than two years of age to be held in the lap of another person who is at least 12 years of age. If you wish to hold your child under two years of age, we will not collect a fare ... While the decision to hold your little one is certainly up to you, our governmental safety agency the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and most airline professionals strongly recommend that children under 40 pounds are safer and more comfortable when secured in an approved, hard-sided car or safety seat. Southwest Airlines offers deeply discounted infant fares to make travel more affordable for Customers who reserve and purchase seats for small children. 

Standards in Squidoo

This Squidoo lens is focused on Customer Service Standards. Standards define what customer service means, and what behaviors are expected of the members of the organization. They form the backbone of the customer service program. Without enforced standards, the program is spineless.

Also using a CSR lens in Squidoo to organize material in this blog.

Service standards

Excerpts from
Unleashing Excellence, The Complete Guide to Ultimate Customer Service
Dennis Snow and Teri Yanovitch, Ch 4 The Service Philosophy and Service Standards

Imagine telling 5,000 bank employees: “Go build life-enhancing relationships with our customers,” providing no other guidance. There are many ways to build life-enhancing relationships, some of which may not be appropriate for a bank. There must be behavioral guidelines that provide direction on how employees are expected to build these life-enhancing relationships. Providing that guidance is the role of Service Standards.

Service Standards are the rules of engagement for providing customer service. Service Standards provide the behavioral template that leads to consistent service. They help employees at the moment of truth; those times they have to make a service decision.

Developing the Service Standards

  • Look for the no-brainers. In healthcare, for example, something like accuracy or safety better be pretty close to the top of the hierarchy.
  • Use your research to discover dissatisfier themes. What are those behaviors, oversights, etc. that seem to irritate customers? Most industries have core dissatisfiers that are common to that industry. Identifying potential customer dissatisfiers and implementing processes, systems, and behaviors that eliminate them is a wonderful way to gain a competitive edge.
  • Look for those behaviors that wow customers.

Disney guidelines

Excerpts from Be our Guest: Perfecting the art of customer service
Disney Institute, Chapter 3, The Magic of Cast

Disney University has spent a good deal of time defining courtesy in action and exploring how courtesy contributes to a positive guest experience. The result of these efforts is embodied In a list of actions called performance tips, which every Walt Disney World employee learns.

Performance tips are a set of generic behaviors that ensure that cast members know how to act courteously and respect the individuality of each guest. While the phrase “performance tips” may sound relatively innocuous, these tips pack a punch. At Walt Disney World, they have been translated into a set of behavioral actions called Guidelines for Guest Service.

The guidelines are summarized in seven sentences and serve a variety of purposes. First, they define behavior in terms of the guests. They create a common baseline for interaction with guests and demonstrate the elements of performance that perpetuate courtesy. Second, the guidelines communicate employee responsibilities. They make the company’s expectations for service delivery clear to new cast members and they provide a basis for accountability. Fulfilling the performance guidelines is a condition of employment at Walt Disney World. Cast members who do not use them are subject to progressive disciplinary actions.

Walt Disney World Guidelines for Guest Service

  • Make Eye Contact and Smile!
  • Greet and Welcome Each and Every Guest
  • Seek Out Guest Contact
  • Provide Immediate Service Recovery
  • Display Appropriate Body language at All Times
  • Preserve the “Magical” Guest experience
  • Thank Each and Every Guest