Customer Service and Recessions

Readers of this blog know that my favorite domestic commercial airlines are Jet Blue and Southwest. There are many reasons including no first class (which means quicker boarding and not being told to "use the lavatory in my own class"), free wireless at most terminals, simple and easy to understand fares, no penalties when changing flights, free in flight satellite TV (Jet Blue), etc, etc.

But what it really boils down to is customer service. These two airlines just seem to have happier employees than other carriers. And when things go wrong, as they will with any airline, Southwest and Jet Blue sincerely try and make things right whereas most other airlines could care less - unless you are a million mile customer which brings up that whole "class" thing again.

Anyway, stay with me because this posting does make a point - about customer service and the importance of it - especially in a recession which I believe we are in.

I was returning to California from NYC yesterday on Jet Blue and shortly after takeoff, passengers were informed that the free in flight satellite TV system (each passenger has a personal screen) was not working. OK, not a big deal, right? After all, other major airlines don't even have such a system. We were then told that for our troubles, each passenger would receive a $15 Jet Blue travel voucher.

OK. I'm impressed. That's really cool of Jet Blue.

But that's not all.

While the TV satellite system was not working, the in flight movies, which normally cost $5, were working. So the flight attendant tells the passengers that all movies (you can choose from four) are free as are the headsets. Now the per passenger giveaways are $20. What's next? I'm excited. Maybe if we're delayed we'll get even more freebies. :-)

Seriously, this was impressive to me because I know Jet Blue did not have to do anything - none of the other major airlines (United, Delta, Northwest, American) would have done anything. But Jet Blue understands customer service and they follow a similar model that we do at HRmarketer. In our seven years of being in business I don't think we've had a single complaint about our customer service. We have stellar customer service and we're super proud of this fact.

The simple model that we follow at HRmarketer and Jet Blue seems to follow is this:

1. When something goes wrong, acknowledge it. If it is a result of a mistake you made, admit it.
2. Apologize.
3. Explain what happened, how you are going to fix it, and if applicable how you will contact the customer when it is fixed.
4. Leave the customer feeling good.

Number 4 is the interesting one and where most companies fail.

At HRmarketer, for more serious customer issues we often give stuff away - it could be a free press release over the wires ($200 value), an extended membership, etc. And ALL HRmarketer employees are authorized to do this - we have no "let me check with my manager" routines. Jet Blue does something similar. And while it may not seem like a big deal, it is. Customers appreciate it because they know you are really sorry for what happened and want your continued business.

Now, the recession thing. Research shows that when times are bad, companies often have the upper hand over employees and customers. Many employers know you have fewer employment options so they may start taking away benefits or making unreasonable demands. Some companies, in an attempt to cut costs during a recession, may cut staff resulting in worse customer service or start nickel and diming customers (airlines recently started charging for checking more than one bag and for checking any bag at the curb)

Employees and customers don't forget this stuff and when a recession ends, they may find another job or take their business elsewhere. The point is that great customer service is important in any economy but can be even more important in a bad economy when you can't afford to lose anyone.

Oh, and by the way, history also proves that recessions are not the time to cut marketing and R&D. Quite the opposite.

Related Customer Service Posts:

Southwest’s “Chief Apology Officer“ on Customer Service
What HR Vendors Can Learn From Jet Blue
Sorry, I can’t help you with that...
Jet Blue, Once Again, Teaches Us About Customer Service

Related Recession Posts:

The Next Bust - How Vulnerable Are You?
Keep Building No Matter How Far the Drop

Posted by Mark Willaman

Labels: ,