Southwest’s “Chief Apology Officer“ on Customer Service

We've written a lot about customer service - see related posts at the end of this blog entry. Frankly, we're good at it and it is something I personally take very seriously at HRmarketer. There may be a lot of reasons why an HR supplier stops working with HRmarketer but I can tell you one reason you'll never hear - poor customer service. Not on my watch.

If you're as fanatical about customer service as I am (my wife cringes when we dine out - says I treat most every dining experience as a case study:-) then you'll love this Podcast with Fred Taylor, senior manager of proactive customer service communications for Southwest Airlines. This interview is part of BusinessWeek's Customer Service Champs series and in this episode, Mr. Taylor talks about how Southwest deals with customers on days when travel plans go awry.

You can listen to the Podcast here.

In the Podcast, Taylor talks about a policy Southwest follows when something goes wrong during a flight - even if it is not their fault (e.g., weather delays).

Within 72 hours of the mishap (again, even if it is not Southwest's fault) Taylor sends out a letter to the customer and in the letter there is (1) an explanation of what went wrong, (2) an apology and if appropriate, (3) a "gesture of good will". Basically, the letter says "we're sorry and we hope you'll come back" (again, even if it is not the airline's fault). And get this - Fred Taylor actually puts his phone number on the letter.

Most companies do everything possible not to provide you with a phone number. I remember on my last flight with Northwest (and it was my last - I will never fly with them again) I tried to call customer service to find out if they had found my lost baggage (it had been almost two days) and I was unable after 15 mins to get to a live person. Frustrated, I went to their web site to locate a different number but I was unable to find any phone number (go ahead, try it - visit and time yourself - frustrating but amusing). When I finally did find a number for customer complaints I called but received a message "we're sorry, but do to unusually high call volume we cannot process your call at this time". Classic.

No wonder Southwest is #1 in virtually all categories in commercial airline travel.

Related posts on customer service and the human resource marketplace:

What HR Vendors Can Learn From Jet Blue
‘Tis the Season (to share our success factors - what are yours?)
Sorry, I can’t help you with that...
Jet Blue, Once Again, Teaches Us About Customer Service

Posted by Mark Willaman