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Customer Service Secrets from Outside the Auto Industry

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Customer Service Secrets from Outside the Auto Industry
A look at some of the best advice for keeping clients happy, via the airline industry.

As any dealership leader knows, it’s not easy to get dozens of employees to adapt similar customer-service strategies. Fred Taylor, Jr. can empathize with that issue … though he might not fully sympathize.  

Taylor, after all, is tasked with focusing on customer service in his role at Southwest Airlines—a corporate giant that employs approximately 56,000 people.

“For a company our size, the task is monumental, because we have employees spread out all over,” says Taylor, a senior business consultant for Southwest. “Making sure the message about your customer service strategy is received is critical … making sure everybody’s on the same page.”

Just as few customers are content idling in an auto repair facility’s waiting area, few travelers are tolerant of airline delays. Thus, Taylor’s secrets for keeping customers happy are likely to feel relevant to dealership leaders. And consider this: In an industry rife with disruptions (like weather delays, or mechanical issues) Taylor’s employer was recently ranked No. 1 in customer satisfaction by the Department of Transportation, and has consistently led all airlines in that area over the last quarter century.

Taylor, who has a lengthy background in proactive customer service, provides his secrets for getting any business’ CSI scores to reach new heights.

 

Hire With CSI in Mind.

Southwest strives to hire employees that always have a “willing-to-help mentality,” Taylor notes.

“We go to great lengths to sift out the applicants and evaluate them” he says. “In the interview questions that you ask … you can start to whittle down and evaluate, ‘Does this person really have a customer service mindset?’ We have to really keep coming back to those questions and seeking those responses, because we’re in a very intense industry.”

 

Value Your Staff.

For decades, Southwest’s leaders have remained conscious of the fact they need to consistently turn a profit in order to help their employees forge careers. That was a common goal expressed by Herb Kelleher, one of the company’s founders, who always aimed to keep the company vital and progressive. After all, he knew a profitable company was likely to have employees who possessed positive attitudes.

The airline expresses its respect for employees in another way, too—by seeking staff member’s opinions on the company’s performance via quarterly and annual surveys, which can occasionally unearth customer service ideas.

 

Utilize the Golden Rule.

While every company’s customer service strategy will vary to an extent, Taylor feels one philosophy is relevant regardless of your industry: treat others as you’d prefer to be treated. That’s a guiding mission at Southwest.

“We try to live by that,” he says. “There are days that are more challenging than others … and it does become a little bit of a grind sometimes to keep that smile on your face.

“But, in your core, you know as an individual what your mission is, and I think that helps everyone get through those challenging times.”

 

Always Under-Promise.

The leaders at Southwest subscribe to the theory that it’s always wise to under-promise and over-deliver. If your company does that, then you set customers up to be pleasantly surprised by the service you deliver, Taylor says.

“That doesn’t mean short-sell yourself,” he explains. It means “don’t promise things that you can’t always deliver on.”  

 

Spread Your Message.

Once your company’s customer service philosophy is ironed out, you need to consistently hammer that message home to employees. Taylor’s employer consistently sends out customer service–related memos in an effort to remind employees to keep travelers happy.

“It’s also a responsibility for every leader in every department—at every leadership level—to ingest that, and make sure their respective employees are clear about what the mission and vision is, what their work responsibilities are,” Taylor says.

 

Demonstrate a Sense of Urgency.

Taylor doesn’t want Southwest employees to feel overly pressured to solve customer service concerns immediately in every situation. In fact, sometimes it’s necessary to pass a problem up the organizational hierarchy to find a satisfactory solution.

That said, he has learned it’s important to portray a sense of urgency to customers when they’re noticeably frustrated.

“Make sure you’re trying to convey the impression that you’re wanting to help the customer as quickly as you possibly can,” he says, “You have to have a sense of urgency to get the customer into the right hands and follow up with them to make sure that they’re ultimately receiving the answer that they sought.”

 

Respect the Power of Social Media.

Similarly, Southwest seeks to address any customer complaints that appear on social media within hours, and even minutes, Taylor notes. That’s simply what’s expected from consumers in the digital age.

Additionally, the airline instructs any employees responding to complaints via social media to make sure their tone is supremely professional, honest, humble, and, when necessary, apologetic.

“Make sure that the customers know, ‘Hey, we’re not giving you a canned response—we’re giving you an individual response that’s based on your particular situation, and we’re doing it in a manner that we believe is transparent,’” Taylor says.

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