While safety and reliability are typically primary areas of focus for airlines, unpredictable weather, crowded airspace and other operational complexities inevitably lead to flight delays and cancellations. No airline is immune to these service gaps. However, US Airways’ primary goal is to provide reliable service, and to meet this goal, especially in service recovery situations, each employee’s skill and attitude is critical.
The airlines’ initial focus was enhancing reliable operations. After making changes and delivering operations that led amongst its peers in 2010 reliability metrics, US Airways shifted focus to improving service recovery. The company needed to educate its reservations and airport customer service employees on the importance of correcting service failures to build customer satisfaction and loyalty.
To do this, the airline rolled out an interactive eight-week development program based on visual metaphors showing passengers crossing a bridge with a solid foundation but falling through gaps in the planking that represent the service disruptions the airline industry faces. When these gaps occurred, US Airways employees were pictured catching them in a net of service recovery. The imagery was supplemented by data and Socratic dialogue. In June 2010, a customized learning map was introduced to employees at 45 airports and five reservation centers across the international carrier’s system. More than 10,000 employees participated in the required four-hour, facilitator-led small group discussions to connect them to the big picture, engage them visually and drive results at the individual level.
Using the LEAD model, employees explored a step-by-step process for service recovery.
Listen: Let the customer explain their situation. Don’t interrupt.
Empathize: See the problem through their eyes.
Apologize: Apologize because of how they feel, or as appropriate.
Deliver: Explain what can be done for the customer.
As part of development around service recovery employees spent nearly three hours practicing and applying learning tactics for specific service recovery tools that had been introduced in an earlier section of the course. In January, participants completed an interactive e-learning module that reviewed the main topics and addressed common service recovery scenarios.
In just a year, utilization rates of service recovery tools nearly doubled and other service-related metrics have increased nearly 15 percent. Further, customers noticed. Airport complaints decreased, and US Airways had the fewest U.S. Department of Transportation complaints among the nation’s major hub and spoke airlines for three months during 2010. Finally, the airline finished with a first-place ranking for the year in baggage handling, which means a better travel experience for customers and bonuses for employees. The company paid out more than $22 million system-wide in 2010 for performance incentives.
The service recovery content is now an integral part of the new-hire training curricula for airport and reservations agents. Further, US Airways is working on a follow-up course using the same instructional strategy, which launches in September.
Jason Maxwell is a senior manager at US Airways, and Gary Magenta is a senior vice president at Root Learning. They can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.