Southwest Airlines Soars Above Its Peers

I’m writing this post as I’m flying to Puerto Rico on America Airlines. Seems like an appropriate time to discuss my new report: Customer Experience Index (CxPi) 2008 Snapshot: Airlines. The research examined the results of the seven airlines in the 2008 CxPi: American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and US Airways.

The results are probably not surprising:

  • Airline experiences are mostly poor. The average CxPi score for the airlines was 65; on the cusp between an “okay” and “poor” rating. But six of the seven airlines received “poor” or “very poor” ratings.
  • Southwest stands out from the pack. The top scoring airline, Southwest received a CxPi score of 81%; a “good” rating. The next airline on the list, Continental, was a whopping 14 points behind.
  • US Airways dissapoints the most. Coming in at the bottom of the list is US Airways, with a “very poor” rating of 50%. That score earned the airline the 103rd spot out of the 113 firms in the CxPi. Northwest was the next to last airline with a 56% score.

It might have been a closer race if we had data for some other airlines like JetBlue and Virgin America. But there’s no doubt that Southwest does things differently than most airlines. The differences start at the top. I often refer to this quote from Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines:

If you create an environment where the people truly participate, you don’t need control. They know what needs to be done and they do it. And the more that people will devote themselves to your cause on a voluntary basis, a willing basis, the fewer hierarchies and control mechanisms you need.

The bottom line: The airline industry could use more leaders like Kelleher

I’m Looking Forward To Virgin America

Virgin America just announced plans to fly from Boston’s Logan Airport, my local airport. The young carrier is known for it’s in-flight amenities like leather seats, neon mood lighting, power outlets, touch-screen entertainment systems, Internet access, and leather seats. The screens can also be used for “chatting” with other passengers and ordering food; keeping the aisles free from carts.

 Just like JetBlue (which I am a fan of), Virgin offers very competitive fares compared to larger carriers like American Airlines and United.

In Forrester’s customer experience rankings of over 100 firms, Southwest Airlines ended up with a “good” rating, but the other six airlines on the list wound up with either a “poor” or “very poor” rating (note: JetBlue was not on the list due to insufficient responses). So when it comes to customer experience, the industry has a lot of opportunity to improve.

That’s why I’m looking forward to hearing what David Cush, CEO of Virgin America, has to say at Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum in New York. He recently agreed to be a keynote speaker at the event. To get a sense of Cush’s outlook, here’s an excerpt of his comments from the Virgin America website:

As a new airline, trying lots of new things, our pledge is to keep doing what’s working, stop doing what isn’t, and continue to come up with new stuff to make you say: this is how to fly.

The bottom line: There’s no excuse (except for weather) for a bad flying experience.

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