I am amazed. I just wrote a post yesterday about a few select companies that I love. I am impressed by their movement to interact with customers more as humans, and less like credit card transactions. They have identified the sucky experience that many customers face with other companies offering their same line of products, and improved this, giving themselves the edge of customer service.
I had a death in my family this week. Of course, the last minute flight home for the funeral was through the roof. When I called Southwest and asked for a bereavement fare, I was harshly rebuffed: "NO, we don't have anything like that" the flight rep said. Any condolence? Compassion? Empathy? Zero.
But this post is not just about how I was a fan of Southwest for 10 years, and now see them through cynical eyes. Instead, this post is about what Southwest could have done differently and how they should learn from their FAILs to improve - ie: let crappy be their muse. Because here is the thing. When someone faces a major loss in their family, they are emotional, flustered, vulnerable, and extremely busy. In other words, the experiences they have in dealing with customer service during this process is that much more heightened. This is a PERFECT opportunity for a company to garner real trust, and loyalty. Or garner cynicism, frustration, and all possible future avoidance.
3 Things Southwest Could Have Done Differently:
1. Offer a bereavement fare. Like I already mentioned, because of heightened emotions, you can either win over a customer, or ward them off. Of all the things Southwest claims to do - happy, smiling employees, singing happy birthday to the 90 year old man on his flight, THIS ONE is perhaps the biggest opportunity to make the customer feel better. Again, during this time, people are at wits end...you have a huge opportunity to secure a customer for life here.
2. Create a smooth process for dealing with this situation. These customers are under a lot of stress, and usually very short on time. Fluidity is KEY.
3. Train employees to express sympathy...or better yet, just hire empathetic employees. If you are unable to offer lower fares, at the very least, you can TRAIN employees to be sympathetic. The person I talked to on the phone today was wretched. I was thinking: "Are you a robot?" I just lost a family member. Have you no sympathetic bone in your body? DO NOT make this hit or miss. This should be MANDATORY. Compassion is free. That is the least you can offer.
BONUS: As companies move towards improving their customer service experience - - please, NO TALK. DO. If this was just one isolated event, I'd chalk it up to "well, I just dealt with one unfortunately rude employee. But the more I talk to others, the more I realize this is a common experience.
I read Tony Hseigh's book this weekend, cover to cover: Delivery Happiness. He is the founder and CEO of Zappos. If cutting corners, only considering the immediate bottom line, and overlooking the big picture is the only way to be successful, how is it that he runs a $1 billion + company? All on the foundation of delivering amazing, WOW customer service? That's right. You can deliver amazing customer service and use this as your differentiator with others in the industry. Might be worth sticking to, Southwest...
I hope we all start to wake up and smell the coffee and realize that if we help those around us solve their problems, and be compassionate in the process, YOU and your organization will do better in the long run.