Southwest’s Giant Diss to Customers

April 8, 2011

It really bummed us out when Southwest, an airline that’s always been such a rockstar about customer service and customer experience, totally blew it April 1st (of all days). The airline failed to communicate to its customers the full impact of a grounded plane that had a hole blown through its roof.

The airline smartly grounded the flight, en route from Phoenix to Sacramento, when a startlingly large and visible hole was spotted in the ceiling of the plane’s main cabin.

Ok, that’s a no-brainer. But where the airline company got stupid, is when it decided to keep its other passengers in the dark about the ripple effect the grounded plane had caused. That is, it suuuuper downplayed the fact that it canceled 252 flights the next day (Saturday) and delayed a whopping 1,044. And on Sunday, an additional 300 flights got canceled and nearly 999 more were delayed.

Instead, the airline decided to say nothing for the first 24 hours, and then late Sunday, when undoubtedly a significant number of passengers began expressing immense frustration, it finally post a woefully vague statement on its website that it was “experiencing relatively few flight delays and cancellations.” The “few” turned out to be 10 percent of its flights.

Southwest, what gives?

All it would have taken was a simple, clear, even straightforward statement on your website and and, hey, why not your Twitter feed giving passengers a heads up that the airline had some technical difficulties going on.

Airlines have struggled with a bad reputation for decades now, and customers expect airlines to be transparent, responding to their needs immediately and informing them of any important news. And it’s never been easier to share that important news (without having to cause mass pandemonium) thanks to Twitter feeds, company websites, and the ease of sending emails that keep customers posted on the latest news.

Even when you don’t have a major screwup on your plate, we got some tips for you on how you can always be transparent with your customers.

· Engage customers on their preferred channels (email, web, social media, chat, etc.). That is, if you see that your customers are all about the Twitter, then that’s the place you should focus your efforts, or at least make sure it’s a channel that isn’t missed. If emails have been your most successful venue for communication and transparency, then use that, and so on and so forth.

· Stay on top of all customer conversations with one unified support tool. We’re going to toot our own horn here for a second, but one thing we are really proud about here at Zendesk is our ability to respond to customers through a myriad of channels. Be it phone, email, Twitter, or Chat, we are able to respond and stay on top of all of our customers’ conversations, all within one tool.

· Also, remember that improving customer service efficiency doesn’t mean having to sacrifice personal touch. Don’t let your customers feel like mere cogs in the machine. A few words can go a long way toward personalizing your service.

Photo courtesy of BFS Man.

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