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  April 8, 2011
Do You Get It?


Not too long ago I needed to book a flight from San Diego to New York.  I went to my favorite website to search out my options. 

My search concentrates primarily on three factors: 

  • Departure/arrival times,
  • Layover duration (or better yet non-stop options)
  • Overall cost (including all those little/not-so-little fees the airlines now feel they need to charge to make a profit)

After some time, I am armed with all sorts of flight information, but before I make my final choice I need to make one last stop on my internet journey...

...www.southwest.com where more than likely my purchase will ultimately be made.

I like to think of myself as an experienced traveler.  I estimate that I’ve traveled some 1.5 million miles in my lifetime, which is a lot considering I didn’t leave the State of California until after graduating high school.  I’ve now traveled to some 56 countries and 43 states; almost all with some sort of business connection.

These days, I don’t fly as much, mostly due to mental health reasons caused priamrily by the TSA, long lines and horrendous service but there was a time when I was on an airplane several times each month.

I figured out early that if I wanted to be treated just a bit better by airline personnel, I needed to accumulate most of my miles on one particular airline.  After a long search I decided upon America West.

I chose America West for several reasons, they traveled to a lot of places I needed to go, they did not have a huge pool of frequent flyers so my gold card status might actually get me a first-class seat every now and then, their main hub was in Phoenix with hourly flights to and from San Diego, and most importantly they were a bit smaller so they needed to treat people a little nicer than the mega big airlines like American, United, Delta or Northwest.

At first, I loved this new relationship.  The airline treated me well and I, in return, chose to fly America West, even if it meant paying a slightly higher fare or flying at times not necessarily the very most convenient for me.  I purchased a membership at their airport club lounge so I could relax a bit between flights.

Then one day something changed.  America West announced that they had purchased US Air.  I at first thought this was a good thing.  There were more destinations that I could travel to, there were now additional hubs shortening my travel times, and additional club lounges available to me.

But the good times didn’t last long...

Soon after the merger, there were numerous flight delays...lost luggage...missed connections...higher fees...and a much larger pool of frequent flyers who possessed many more miles and who received those upgrades that I used to get.

In the beginning, each time something bad happened, I would give the airline a free pass thinking that it was just growing pains and that the airline would soon get itself back together...but it just never did.

The service levels began to deteriorate significantly.  Many of the airline personnel were overworked and underpaid as the airline began to bleed red ink. 

Soon thereafter little fees began to sprout.  Box lunches were now available for just $5.00.  Paper tickets had a $10.00 fee attached.  A first check bag was free but a second checked bag was $15.00.  A few months later, a first checked bag was $15 and a second bag was $25.

The service provider that I saw as my friend was now a corporate behemoth who seemed to care more about shareholders and airline executives than customers and frontline workers.  The same workers who now herded people like cattle and showed complete indifference to the plight of customers who were trying hard to make connections or re-ticket due to delayed or cancelled flights.

I was once a avid supporter and raving fan of America West...and like a jilted lover, I’ve vowed never to fly the airline again due to poor service and an attitude of complete indifference.

Their loss is Southwest’s gain.

How many more service related companies are following in the same footsteps as the airline industry?  How many phone calls will go unanswered or be rerouted to far away lands where English is a secondary language?  Where the employees are underpaid and over worked?  Where management doesn’t really care about customers because they offer the lowest price in town and know that you’ll shop in their store with or without good service?  Where their products are made cheaply, not just inexpensively, and fail prematurely.

Not everyone follows this same path.

Apple Computer gets it...Amazon gets it...The Ritz-Carlton gets it...Nordstrom’s gets it...Enterprise Rent-a-Car gets it...USAA Insurance gets it...and Southwest gets it...

These companies all have raving fans and apostles who go out to convert the world...they are not cheapest in their market...but they are thriving in a bad economy...

What do people say about your company?...your customer service?...your products?

We need to always remember that EVERY company is a service company regardless if we sell products or services.

My America West experiences are lessons I need to constantly remind myself of as OptiFuse continues to grow and prosper.  We never want to get so big or grow so fast as to forget about our customers and trying to find ways to put their needs first.  We’re not perfect...but we need to show our customers that we truly care...

Today I fly with Southwest Airlines...not because they are perfect...but rather because they get it...and they make me feel like they care about me and my needs...

How many people would say this about you?

Do you get it?

Thank you very much for supporting OptiFuse where we take our customer service seriously...

Jim Kalb

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