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

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

5 Responses to Southwest Airlines Soars Above Its Peers

  1. You know…as I look at great companies, or at least companies with great customer service, you see a very specific trend. That is, enablement of the front line personnel to make customer service decisions. Or, as Herb Kelleher puts it, “…people truly participate.” You see this at Southwest Airlines, you see this at Zappos and at a few other places.
    I’m a frequent flyer with United. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve been stuck in Chicago and get a, “I’m sorry sir, I’m not allowed to do that in our system.” excuse from an agent. I would say that is a primary reason why Airlines in general are rated so poorly in Customer Experience.
    If often makes me wonder if the executive level truly trust the people that work for them…and what would it be like if we actually did trust our employees.

  2. Jon says:

    This past week-end I had a awful experience with American Airlines. This is the norm now each and every time, as I am no longer a Gold or Platinum member. Now that I am a father there is no more upgrades with the family and this opens up a whole new perspective on what it means to be a working family in this country and in the air. There was no priority line for us with a baby – both check in and at the gate. There were fights breaking out at two of the check-in counters of the three that were available, the 6 hour trip to SFO was overbooked, they charged me 40 dollars to check our pack and play and one small suitcase, the agents are looking for “No” before anything else. Then as I was sitting near business class I had a flash. The plane is the current state of our society. People with less money are asked to scrape by while the rich sit in the comfortable seats. American Airlines is selling discount tickets to people to fill the plane, which is understandable, like a budget airline would do, but they are not acting like a budget airline. They are torn between keeping their elite members happy and the economy seats filled while they sell you internet, headphones, snackboxes and drinks while the elite get to have all the things that they want while the rest of the plane suffers including the staff… the staff looks tired, worn out and simply unhappy in their job, and the angry customers are sick of seeing certain people get treated differently just because they have more money. In the front half of the plane – flight attendants are perky and happy, smile and actually work hard and you get the sense that this class warfare going on out there is playing itself out there on the plane in an amplified dichotomy. If you are going to have two faces to deal with people and two stances for the elite and economy than you are certainly adding to the current state of our nations problems with the haves getting treated differently. When you realize that most of the people in First and Business Class don’t pay for their tickets but their companies do, it only makes you madder at the lack of respect that the flight attendants and American Airlines has for the people that are just like them. The flight attendants should remember that when they are no longer working in the industry and don’t have free upgrades they are going to be showed in the back with the snack boxes and they can no longer sneak a business class meal to the back row to eat while we all feast on a big Stack of Lays Potato Chips. Change needs to come to the public spaces where the rich and the not so rich interact and the plane is one of those places.

    • Bruce Temkin says:

      Jon: Thanks for sharing your thoughts; they’re an interesting mix between poor customer experience and social inequalities. I’ll keep away from the social commentary, but will totally agree that American Airlines could do a better job taking care of the people in the back of the plane.

  3. Pingback: When Did You Last Re-Recruit Your Team? « Customer Experience Matters

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