Charles Nardello, the SVP of Operations at Hawaiian Airlines, recently wrote about how they were able to drive improvement in the key metrics important to airline customers.
Hawaiian are now routinely ranked first by the US Department of Transportation among all airlines for on-time performance and fewest cancellations as well as garnering top marks for best baggage handling and fewest customer complaints.
How did Hawaiian achieve these outcomes? By creating a customer culture based on 3 strategies:
1) Really understanding the Hawaiian travel customer
2) Benchmarking Hawaiian on customer “moments of truth” regularly
3) Empowering Hawaiian employees to handle unexpected situations
Knowing your Customer
Hawaiian Airlines is infused with a customer focused culture that permeates everything.
“For every decision we make, from the most basic to the complex, the customer always comes first—they are the driver of our decision-making and strategic planning,” – Charles Nardello
A culture that brings the customer perspective to every decision acts very differently than a company where customers are an afterthought or are only considered when reacting to customer problems. At every level of the organization, whether deciding on which cutlery to use in the cabin or which markets to fly to, a deep understanding of the customers they serve and the experience they want to create drives the decision.
Benchmarking and Embracing Complaints
In order to benchmark, Hawaiian Airlines surveys customers every month on their experiences with the airline and factors the results into every employee’s bonus pay.
“Every employee receives a scorecard rating them on how well they’ve performed in interacting directly with the customer or, in the case of senior executives, on decision-making and strategic planning.” – Charles Nardello
It’s an approach that guarantees that everyone at the airline will remain focused on the customer. In particular they are focused on the key moments of truth that drive the most value for their customers. This includes check-in, boarding, the flight itself, baggage retrieval and how customers are treated via each stage of their journey.
The airline reinforces this customer focus via a streaming news ticker that runs on the lower part of computer screens and TVs in break rooms and crew lounges. The ticker show unedited, unfiltered, real-time customer reaction via social media.
Nardello suggests that he is grateful for complaints as it provides the opportunity to do something immediately to improve.
Unfortunately most customer’s don’t complain they just leave and the company wonders what happened. In fact customers are more likely to complain to someone else about the experience than the company directly. This creates even more of challenge for a company to win them back.
If a reaction is negative, the airline addresses it immediately. As Nardello points out, “Our speed in addressing the problem could make the difference between retaining that customer for future flights or losing him or her forever.”
No company can prepare for every situation that can trigger customer dissatisfaction, which is why those that excel at customer service train and empower their frontline employees to solve problems on the fly.
“We believe employees perform best when empowered to improvise and bring unmatched service to their customers in a sincere, personal way.”
This strategy has served Hawaiian well as it continues to be ranked among the very best airlines in North America. It was recently ranked 3rd most profitable on a pre-tax margin basis behind two other airlines know for high levels of customer focus – Alaskan Air and Southwest Airlines.