Proactive Customer Service

Proactive Customer Service.

Business Week magazine this week has a cover story titled “Customer Service Champs.” The opening paragraph of that article highlights Southwest Airlines for their proactive customer service:

Bob Emig was flying home … on Southwest Airlines … when an all-too-familiar travel nightmare began to unfold. After his airplane backed away from the gate, he and his fellow passengers were told the plane would need to be de-iced. When the aircraft was ready to fly two and a half hours later, the pilot had reached the hour limit set by the Federal Aviation Administration, and a new pilot was required. By that time, the plane had to be de-iced again. Five hours after the scheduled departure time, Emig’s flight was finally ready for takeoff.

A customer service disaster, right? Not to hear Emig tell it. The pilot walked the aisles, answering questions and offering constant updates. Flight attendants, who Emig says “really seemed like they cared,” kept up with the news on connecting flights. And within a couple of days of arriving home, Emig, who travels frequently, received a letter from Southwest that included two free round-trip ticket vouchers. “I could not believe they acknowledged the situation and apologized,” says Emig. “Then they gave me a gift, for all intents and purposes, to make up for the time spent sitting on the runway.”

Emig’s “gift” from the airline was … standard procedure for Southwest Airlines, which almost six years ago created a new high-level job that oversees all proactive customer communications with customers. Fred Taylor, who was plucked from the field by President Colleen C. Barrett to fill the role in 2001, coordinates information that’s sent to all frontline reps in the event of major flight disruptions. But he’s also charged with sending out letters, and in many cases flight vouchers, to customers caught in major storms, air traffic snarls, or other travel messes–even those beyond Southwest’s control–that would fry the nerves of a seasoned traveler. “It’s not something we had to do,” says Taylor. “It’s just something we feel our customers deserve.”

In this story, Southwest didn’t wait around to hear about complaints and they surely didn’t ignore problems. They had established company policies to proactively seek out and handle any problems or perceived problems with customers.

Because your customers were dealing with your company at the time things went bad, regardless of whether or not it was your fault, they had a bad experience. To handle a bad situation proactively, you need to handle all problems: both your mistakes and the side effects of events outside of your control.

Uncontrollable circumstances will happen on your watch. Take care of the customer during these times and they will grow into your loyal fan club.  [Return Customer]

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