Review of Article: Professional Apologizers to Improve Customer Service for Airlines

Article Summary:
The essence of the article talks about some airlines employing professional apologizers to help address many of the customer service issues passengers may experience during air travel. Two airlines mentioned in the article were Southwest Air and American Airlines. There are issues inside and outside an airline’s control but some companies feel it’s worthwhile to apologize and attempt to “smooth over” any negative opinions they may have as a result. Some experts wonder if it’s useful to remind some passengers again of their negative experience but some representatives feel it’s the best approach.

American Airlines has instituted a similar program since the mid-1990s and Southwest Air implemented this program about 10 years ago.

In terms of airline consumer complaints, Southwest Airlines had the lowest number of complaints in 2009. See how other key players scored, based upon the number of complaints per 100,000 passengers (courtesy of the Chicago Tribune):

Southwest 0.21
JetBlue Airways 0.85
Continental Airlines 1.00
Northwest Airlines* 1.21
US Airways 1.31
United Airlines 1.34

My Comments
Customer service may be your company’s ultimate goal but sometimes things happen outside of the airlines control? Sometimes, airline passengers do unexpectedly things which may poorly reflect on the airline and possibly tarnish their brand. That’s where the Professional Apologizer program comes into play. Don’t get me wrong, results are great but sometimes the attitude and approach of the airline to rectify the situation is very appreciated even when results may sometimes fall short.

Interesting that many of the other airlines have 5 times the complaints as Southwest including American, United, and Northwest Airlines. Has this changed over the last few years?

Based upon the article, it is difficult to say that all the other major airlines are taking a proactive approach, but it’s great to see Southwest involved. Especially considering some of the negative situations their clients experience are outside their control. If other airlines besides Southwest and American have similar programs, why not include in the article?

To a great extent, you can tell how well a public facing company is run by the attitude of the employees. Are they helpful, cheerful and genuinely committed to the company’s mission? If something goes wrong, how does the customer facing airline representatives deal with it? Do they blame others or do they accept responsibility? Sometimes it’s not just about avoiding problems but how do you handle the problems in or out of your control?

Regardless of the amount of complaints, Southwest is not standing still. Is this a commitment to excellence? Is this a commitment to increasing their market share? Regardless of their motivation, it feels good when a company cares a lot about their customer’s flying experience.

Maybe other airlines are currently addressing their customer service issues. I don’t know. Maybe they are less public with their approach. Again, I don’t know. Kudos to any of these airlines who are visibly or secretly addressing customer service issues. To a great extent, the proof is in the pudding in terms of how well the major carriers compare with one another in terms of the number of monthly or annual complaints.

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