Chicken or the Egg: Service Recovery

There is no doubt that US Airways did a great job in the aftermath of the US 1549 miracle landing on the Hudson.  In this BusinessWeek article, customers praised the “velvet-rope care US Airways employees provided following the forced landing—from the dry clothes, warm meals, and free hotel room they had waiting.”  The airline even had locksmiths standing by to help stranded passengers get back into their cars and homes.

So why did it take major event like a crash landing for a company to flex its customer service muscles? Service heroes that stay behind during a very busy check-out to help out or run down five blocks to fetch soy milk for a guest definitely deserve praise.  But shouldn’t good managers be able to anticipate these needs before they become opportunities for service recovery? In this drive to provide great recovery, it can become dangerous and simply lazy to use the ‘above and beyond’ service to make up for procedural failures.

I was very impressed with US Airways and how they handled the recovery after the landing.  However, that story is mutually exclusive to the six times the airline has lost my luggage, stolen DVDs out of my found luggage, spilled coffee on my laptop, and bumped me onto another flight in perfect weather conditions.  I remain a cynic and will fly another airline even if it means making two additional layovers.

Maybe US Airways can learn something from themselves.  If they improve the experience for even half a percent of their total passengers, they will positively affect 1000 times the number of people than their Hudson miracle.  The lesson: bridge service recovery heroics with day-to-day operations.

1 Comment
  • Jim Coyle

    Nice piece, Arthur. Please see this article in the NY Times Business section (link below) that talks about why airlines offer terrible customer service. It is mostly summed up in the fact that they cannot make money without nickel and diming. My takeaway is that Southwest makes money, and while the legacy carriers have different issues, it is possible to make a dollar in airlines.

    In reality though, I believe that airlines are a commodity business which means consumers are looking for the lowest cost, and an experience that is predictable and courteous. People are very stressed when they travel too, which ultimately means they amplify everything and airlines get blamed for everything, when in reality they are probably rarely 100% at fault.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/21/business/21service.html?ref=business

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