We’re such an easily offended populace. If our fast food isn’t fast enough, we’re off and tweeting a complaint so the world can know about the horrible inconvenience we’ve endured.
If our flight’s a little late, we’re tweeting something snarky to and about the airline, ignoring the fact that what they do on a daily basis is a gravity-defying miracle.
So let’s take time out on this summer day to give a friendly nod to a Texas company — which happens to be an airline in this case — that understands how, at relatively low cost, it’s possible to turn an agitated, inconvenienced customer into a friend. It seems so simple, but somehow it’s a mystery to too many companies.
Here are the facts. Last Saturday night, Southwest Airlines flight 5042 from Phoenix arrived at the local airport about 15 minutes ahead of its scheduled 10:25 p.m. arrival.
So that was good. What followed was not. Somehow, I’m told by a passenger/family member on board, that the attempt to open the door to let the passengers off was foiled by unintended deployment of the emergency exit chute. Oops.
Whatever the cause, the passengers couldn’t deplane (I love that word) for about another 40 minutes. This resulted in some frustrated fliers and the odd sight of a luggage carousel spinning around fully loaded with suitcases but nobody hovering around to claim them.
As with mechanical failures, weather and other things that can delay or interrupt a flight, such is the potential risk we assume when we choose to fly in a metal tube that somehow often has Wi-Fi. As stated above, it’s amazing how well this usually works and how cranky we get when we’re mildly inconvenienced.
So now let’s get around to how Southwest handled this particular and particularly odd inconvenience. No magic here, nothing worth a Nobel Prize of any category. But it’s amazing how many companies don’t take such an occurrence as an opportunity to decrank a cranky customer. And please remember how much money companies spend to make you a customer in the first place.
I don’t know much (anything?) about business, but it seems to me a dollar spent to make an existing customer happy is a dollar much more efficiently spent than what it costs to attract a new customer.
“Dear (passenger),” said the email that went to Flight 5042 passengers by midday Sunday. “I’m very sorry for the unexpected mechanical issue that necessitated the use of air stairs after Flight #5042 arrived in Austin yesterday. We greatly appreciate your patience with our in-flight and ground crew while exiting the aircraft (via) the rear entry door. Please accept my sincere apology for the overall experience.”
It was signed by Lori Tallent of a department Southwest calls “Proactive Customer Communications.”
“We certainly want you to have better memories when traveling with us,” Tallent wrote. “In this spirit, I’m sending you a LUV voucher that can be applied as a form of payment toward the purchase of your next Southwest reservation. We look forward to welcoming you on board another flight in the near future.”
A separate email brought a $100 voucher for said future flight.
So simple, so relatively inexpensive for a company that spends zillions of dollars to lure people onto its planes. And, as in Tallent’s title, so “proactive.” Why don’t more companies realize that a problem can be a great opportunity?
No big news here, and I’m sure there’s a reader or two or more out there with Southwest Airlines horror stories. Hey, back during the plastic-boarding-card era, Southwest somehow let me board the wrong flight. I had some explaining to do when I deplaned in Tampa-St. Petersburg instead of Orlando to make my connection to Fort Lauderdale.
The airline’s Twitter feed includes lots of complaints, as well as some complaints about complaints. I like this one in that latter category: “I just saw a tweet where someone was offended because a @SouthwestAir flight attendant showed support for their college football team of choice. They got offended. Over a SPORTS TEAM. Jesus Christ, just send a plague already. Even if that means I die in the process.”
There’s something endearing about overreacting to an overreaction.
And, potentially on the downside for Austinites not overly thrilled with the California-Austin connection, there’s this recent Southwest tweet: “We’ve been giving away nonstop flights & you can enter to win! Using #SouthwestFlightGiveaway #sweepstakes, tweet what you’d do during a weekend in Austin to win a row of seats & accommodations by Southwest Hotels. CA residents only.”
Best response: “I would drink barbecue sauce from a straw for three days straight. Don’t believe me? Send me.”
Weird. I thought straws had joined the long list of things that are politically incorrect in California.