Ding! “Flight Attendants take your seats,” came the
announcement from the cockpit. As one who flies quite a bit, this is nothing
unusual – maybe some unexpected turbulence.
Maybe not! The flight attendant in the front reached into an
overhead compartment, grabbed an oxygen cylinder, and darted to her seat
behind the partition. Her colleague was briskly making her way down the aisle
to the back of the plane signing something with her hands to the other
attendant with a focused facial expression. Not good!
No announcement…nothing. Then, an usual and load noise
started and the plane felt like it was making a rapid descent. The plastic water bottle tucked in the
seat pocket in front of me began to cave in – pressure change! I
waited……..still no news. I’m getting less comfortable. And then, things seem to
smooth out, flight attendants reappeared, and the captain came on the intercom.
“Ladies and gentleman,
you may have noticed we made a rather quick descent. We had a warning light go
off indicating we were loosing pressure somewhere. We opted to bring the plane
down to a lower altitude so those pesky oxygen makes wouldn’t drop out of the
ceiling and scare you. All is okay and we are being cleared to be the next to
land in Birmingham.”
As we landed, airport rescue crews were standing by and
Southwest Airlines management were hovering with clipboards and radios. Just
days before our flight, another Southwest flight flying from Nashville to
Baltimore had to make an unscheduled stop in Charleston, WV when it too lost
pressure, so this event was more than just routine for everyone there. Read story here.
The flight ended without issue. Southwest staff did their
usual fabulous service – the captain even helped carry my gate checked car
seats up so we could get headed to Grandma’s house (I was on a family trip with
my wife and two small children). Other than a brief scare and a good story, it
was just another day of air travel for me.
But the story doesn’t end there. The next day I received
this email from Southwest Airlines’ Proactive Communications.
The email explained, in detail and in plain english, what had happened on our
flight the day before and included facts only someone on the plane would have
known (i.e., low volume of the captain’s announcement). It was more than a form
letter. The next day, I would receive three $50 travel vouchers as well for our
troubles. I was a little surprised by the unexpected follow up.
As customers, most of us have become far too used to being
treated as less than valuable by many of the companies we frequent and “issues”
have become an expected norm rather than the exception. Addressing service problems
is critical to any organization’s success. Quickly identifying something didn’t
go well, communicating with customers, and reinforcing a commitment to quality
says a lot about an organization.
Sure, Southwest already had one related event that week and was
on high alert. But, Southwest also knew it wanted to be the kind of company that
is customer focused and their actions were very reflective of that corporate
value, which I’ve encountered many times. While it’s continually leadership’s responsibility to improve
quality and reduce errors and defects, it’s also important to be ready to
respond when you are not perfect. Only then, can you create devoted customers
and vocal fans.
The flight home was
uneventful (other than the kids) and I’m boarding another Southwest flight to
Oakland on Sunday. Southwest Airlines remains DMWAustin consulting’s corporate
air provider even if they haven’t profiled me yet in the back pages of Spirit
Magazine as an A Lister!
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