• April 21, 2005
  • By Colin Beasty, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

Southwest Airlines Cruises in Customer Satisfaction

Southwest Airlines posted the best overall customer service in the airline industry for the second time in a row, and received A grades for customer satisfaction and call completion, according to VocaLabs' semiannual report, "SectorPulse: Airlines III." The study's purpose was to evaluate airline contact center operations on a scale ranging from A to D, with the primary focus on call satisfaction and completion. The report measured eight carriers: American, Continental, Delta, JetBlue, Northwest, Southwest, United, and U.S. Airways, in seven categories, including caller satisfaction, call completion, automation rate, caller frustration, average call time, customer loyalty, and reasons for calling. An extra section provided a list of common caller complaints. The data had been collected between Oct. 28, 2004, and March 31, 2005. VocaLabs draws from a pool of more than 90,000 travelers who agree to call customer service through the company's server, which records the call. Participants complete a survey before and after the call to gauge satisfaction levels. While Southwest Airlines' grades remained unchanged in the two categories, Continental made huge gains, also earning As and coming in a close second overall. United improved from two Cs to a B for caller satisfaction and an A for call completion. American, JetBlue, and Northwest also scored well, earning As and Bs. Delta and U.S. Airways were at the bottom of the scale, splitting Cs and Ds. "Overall, the airlines in the last six months have gotten better," says Rick Rappe, vice president of business development at VocaLabs. "In comparison to our previous reports, the airline industry has made improvements in their customer service." The study also maintained that companies like Southwest and JetBlue that have reputations for providing outstanding customer service are reaping the benefits in the form of strong customer loyalty and high levels of single call completion. VocaLabs concluded that reduced hold times and improved automated systems were important industry recommendations. Customer complaints about long hold times were common and were the biggest driver of poor satisfaction scores. Research showed that customers would prefer to use automated systems for routine tasks and agents for complex problems, though most of the airlines' self-service systems didn't meet these criteria. "This problem needs to be attacked through a combination of better automation and proper staffing," Rappe says. "In our final analysis there is no replacement for warm bodies answering the telephone." Related articles: JetBlue Soars Again in Service Rankings
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