Underpromise Your Service and Overdeliver

April 18, 2018

An expert from Southwest Airlines—renowned for its drive to satisfy customers—spoke with FenderBender on how to make customer service a high standard in your shop.

“It can be a grind to keep a smile on your face,” says Fred Taylor, senior business consultant for Southwest Airlines.

Taylor has worked for the airline company for five years and acts as a bridge between the company and air travel consumer issues.

A vision and a mission coincide for Southwest Airlines, one of the leading customer service airlines in the industry. The airline has been on FORTUNE’s list of World’s Most Admired Companies for nearly a quarter century with 2018 marking its 24th consecutive year on the list. In 2018, the airline ranked No. 8 and is the only industrial airline in the top 10.

Southwest Airlines has consistently remained above the airline industry CSI benchmark, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Just last year, the company had a score of 80, which was five points above the benchmark.

People fly to get from point A to point B and do it because they have to, not necessarily because they like the process of going through security and waiting in line to get on an often crowded flight—just like no one likes having to get a car repaired after a collision. The businesses are both gateways for customers to travel and continue their daily routines.

In order to deliver quality customer service, Southwest needs to recognize the stress that customers experience that go along with travel like time constraints, laws and security.

The company focuses on three key service components: safety, low costs and a high customer satisfaction standard to be upheld each day—whether you’re an employee at the front desk or behind the scenes. Taylor shares a few tips from Southwest that can be applied to many industries—including collision repair.

Tip #1: Underpromise Your Service and Overdeliver

Create a “wow” factor by not promising your customers too much from your service and then going above and beyond their expectations. This idea came from the time of the Gulf War, when few people were traveling and we saw a financial downturn.

We have done this in our check-in process to make it seamless for customers, despite the increased security over the years.

So, this philosophy became something that’s similar to greeting people with a friendly attitude. Deliver in a humble tone, be apologetic when necessary and never deliver canned responses.

I’ve been to body shops and they ask you to give feedback on the service, which I do. But when I follow up later for fun to see if they’ve heeded my advice, it’s obvious many have not. My suggestions may be small, like what types of snacks I prefer when waiting for my car, but it’s seeing change in the little things that brings a positive experience.

One Southwest Airlines passenger, who has been flying with the company since it started in 1985, tweeted how grateful she was to fly her wetsuit bag for free after barefoot water skiing in Florida in October. The company sent her a free, warm fleece blanket to get her through the winter months until her next trip and to offer a thank you for her business.

Tip #2: Be Friendly or Be Quiet

Do not force a certain type of friendly personality onto your staff. You want your staff to be genuine so customers always know they’re going to receive honesty.

    But you should avoid hiring “curmudgeons.” Hire friendly people and then coach them as you need to go along with the company culture.

    If you’re comfortable being friendly and open, then go for it but if you’re not, then don’t force it. That’s why I think people find our service genuine.

Tip #3: Don’t Worry About Immediate Solutions

Make sure your employees know it is OK not have an answer to every question. Being willing to help someone and get an answer is just as good as having the answer.

You want employees to demonstrate they’re willing to help the customer in a timely manner and as quickly as possible. You’re not going to leave the customer hanging and they’re never going to know the outcome of their inquiry.

You need to get them to the right answer and then follow up with them.

Tip #4: Communicate with Your Employees

It’s just as important for a department leader to create a vision and mission and then send that to employees. You never want your team getting information secondhand.

A good way to keep checking in with staff about the customer service mission is to send memos, emails or use an intranet site for the business. The No. 1 thing our employees say on surveys is that they need a strong leader.

Southwest Airlines teaches its team leaders to conduct one-on-one meetings with their staff more than once per year during an annual review meeting. The leaders need to conduct a combination of monthly meetings and informal phone calls here and there.

An employee needs to know their leader wants to hear updates whether that will be good, bad or neutral.

It’s easy to say, “We’re going to do this,” and then never actually check in on it and meet or exceed the expectations you set.

Tip #5: Remember the Golden Rule

Treat others how you want to be treated. We know people don’t like to fly. So, we think, “Why isn’t flying fun?”

We keep in mind and tell our employees to keep in mind that the person may be a first-time flyer or a white-knuckled traveler but everyone should be treated with our mission of a reliable, friendly and safe flight.

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