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

The Satisfaction Quarterly Report, Q1 2008

I recently mentioned the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) to someone and was surprised that she had not heard of it. It’s a great research effort led by Claes Fornell at the University Of Michigan which tracks customer satisfaction on a quarterly basis. Here’s a chart of the national average since the index was created in 1994:

ACSI National Satisfaction Scores

As you can tell, satisfaction scores have been generally on the rise over the last few years.

The ACSI provides both company-specific and industry-specific data for a different set of industries every quarter. The Q1 2008 ACSI looked at the following industries: hotels, restaurants, hospitals, cable & satellite TV, cellular telephones, computer software, fixed line telephone service, motion pictures, network/cable TV news, newspapers, wireless telephone service, airlines, express delivery, U.S. Postal Service, and energy utilities.

Here are some of the highlights from that Q1 2008 data:

  • Best & Worst Organizations:
    • Top rated: FedEx Corporation (express delivery), UPS (express delivery), Olive Garden (restaurant), and Southern Company (Utility)
    • Largest improvement (since last year): Ameren Corporation (energy utilities), Reliant Energy (energy utilities), Energy Future Holdings (energy utilities), and McDonalds (limited service restaurants).
    • Lowest rated: US Airways (airlines), Charter Communications (cable & satellite TV), Comcast Corporation (cable & satellite TV), and Sprint Nextel (wireless telephone services).
    • Largest decline (since last year): US Airways (airlines), Continental Airlines (airlines), Sprint Nextel (wireless telephone services), and Northwest Airlines (airlines).
  • Best & Worst Industries:
    • Top rated: Express Delivery and Ambulatory Care.
    • Largest improvement (since last year): Hotels and Fixed Line Telephone Services.
    • Lowest rated: Airlines, Cable & Satelitte TV, and Newspapers. 
    • Largest decline (since last year): Newspapers and Broadcast TV News.

The bottom line: This should be a wake-up call to many firms (are you listening airlines and cable & satellite companies?).

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