Sunday, December 5, 2010

Service Recovery - the Alaska Airlines way

Flight 482, set to depart Seattle, enroute for San Diego at 3:40pm. All is going well, I even got the last upgrade and am seated comfortably in 1D when (being the first customer in the plane and closest to the flight attendants) I hear rumblings about the "weather radar" and needing to call a mechanic for a part. I pull open my iPad and check FlgihtTracker and it tells me our estimated departure time is now 5:05pm. I know this before the crew it seems.

Turns out not to be that bad, but we endure a 35 minute flight delay as the part is installed and tested. During this time, some of the best flight attendants I've had do their best to apologize and calm these Sunday afternoon travelers. Kim, Amy and Stephanie deserve special mention (I will be sure and include that on my comment card after this flight).

All good, the part tests out, check. Safety demo complete, check. AS482 heads out on the runway at Sea-Tac and I'm calculating the delay in my head to determine if I need to text Pam and ask her to DVR tonight's Dexter episode when we just kind of stop. We've backed up from the gate, flight attendants are seated and we just kind of stop.

And we head back to the gate, this time it seems the in-flight A/C is malfunctioning. Same routine, Kim does her best to make the announcement and avoid passenger mutiny, and we wait. This fix is faster than the first and the mechanic is on and off the plane in less than 10 minutes. Part installed, check. Tested, check. And we enjoy the safety demo for the second time on this flight - because the door was opened. FAA regulation apparently.

Our patience is openly and authentically appreciated (I actually feel this) as expressed in the announcement and as we begin to push back from the gate the flight attendants hand out a card attached to a post card with the header "Our Apology". It entitles everyone inconvenienced on the flight today to 1,000 bonus miles in our Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan account. Great! As a member for many years, that will be 1/20th of the way to MVP status next year for me. A gesture very much appreciated for what in the scheme of things is a minor delay.

Then I get to thinking, and listening to those around me. What if I don't collect miles on this airline or have a Mileage Plan account? What if this is the only time I ever fly Alaska? Sure the card gives you an option to sign up, but that makes the conciliatory offer a little less genuine perhaps? There are always cost controls to manage and "breakage" on these kinds of offers, but I wonder if my favorite airline has run the numbers on a "let's make it up to you" offer that gives their customers a choice? Maybe $25 to use on future Alaska Airlines travel? For non-Mileage Plan members that could pay for checked baggage or change fees if plans change, or a cocktail or snack pack. I should, but I don't know the cost per point, but I assume 1,000 points is likely in that range.

Costs aside, I have to believe the benefits of giving their customers a true choice, even if it is for future Alaska travel, would go further than a one-size-fits-all 1,000 points. As we reach our cruising altitude Kim informs us of another benefit on today's flight, free GoGoInflight WIFI, courtesy of Honda. All I had to do was watch an ad for the cool new CR-Z and give them my email address (they did give me the choice right there to opt-out of future offers) and land on a Honda page promoting the car:

I am a loyal Alaska Airlines traveler - they have the best options and the best service up and down the west coast, and I am appreciative of the 1,000 miles. But the lesson here for me today, seen in action, was give customers a choice and the apology is that much more valuable. And the other lesson? GREAT customer service goes a very long way. Kim and her crew have been serving and working with pride and it shows, even on one of the bumpiest rides I've experienced in months.

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