Most major corporations have developed customer engagement strategies that reach across a number of channels, from the contact centre to social media. The market leaders often distinguish themselves by how they use each mode to differentiate themselves.
Take Southwest Airlines. Recently, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) released its 2011 rankings for a number of industries, and among major airlines Southwest was in the top spot by 17 points over its nearest competitor. As a low-cost carrier, Southwest’s lack of seating assignments and meal service might be deal breakers for many travellers, especially businesspeople. However, Southwest has built its reputation on the strength of its flight attendants and service staff, who not only seem to like what they do but also go the extra mile to create a great in-flight experience.
As the report notes, Southwest also seems to have developed a knack for understanding what their customers care about and will pay more for without affecting overall satisfaction. While other airlines made the move to charge for bags, for instance, Southwest made its “bags fly free” policy a centrepiece of its marketing campaign.
Interestingly, the report made no mention of Southwest’s embrace of social media and its multichannel approach in the contact centre to drive loyalty and understand what customers want. Now, we’ve talked a lot about the contact centre as the natural nexus of marketing, communications, customer service, and sales, and Southwest is the embodiment of how an integrated approach can pay off. By providing so many different options for customer interaction, Southwest not only speeds the resolution of issues but also ensures that it stays aware of customer feedback.
Its customer contact strategy features a multichannel approach to address how Consumer 2.0 wants to engage with companies. Customers can book tickets online or through a service agent and sign up for updates and notifications through e-mail, mobile, and text. The trick, however, is ensuring that all of these channels offer a consistent customer experience and provide easy access to information in the event of delays or cancellations.
To provide multiple consumer touchpoints, Southwest also maintains a robust presence on Facebook and Twitter. Southwest’s Facebook page, which has more than 1.6 million fans, is used to promote special deals and offer information. In addition, the company makes good use of self-service tools on its website and also maintains a blog that offers a variety of internal perspectives.
Companies that aspire to deliver outstanding customer service in this new consumer landscape can take away several lessons from Southwest.
1) Use different channels to achieve different strategic goals. Although Southwest states that it won’t address specific customer issues on Facebook, fans can still post questions and comments. The airline uses its Twitter account to monitor customer feedback and dispense pointers. While not every company has the resources to be active in all media channels, selecting the right channels to support strategy can still create an impact.
2) Recognise the value of customer contact in building loyalty. Because Southwest’s employees—from flight attendants to contact agents—are united by their commitment to customer experience, customers keep coming back even when fare prices jump. Once companies are able to forge this kind of emotional bond with their customer base, they can begin to redefine the company-customer relationship.
3) Understand what your customers value. The ASCI survey notes that when Southwest decided to begin charging for early check-in, customers weren’t bothered by having to pay for this perk. By engaging customers in a variety of ways and monitoring their feedback and trends, companies can identify new opportunities to market products and services and extract more value from existing ones.
4) Integrate emerging consumer technologies. As smartphones have become more popular, Southwest and other airlines have developed mobile apps to allow travellers to check in, monitor flight status, and change reservations. Such technologies serve to strengthen the bonds between the company and consumer, so executives should stay up to date on new trends and determine the right time to invest.
All of these efforts can complement the contact centre, but to get the most value they must be integrated so that agents have transparency into the conversations taking place in different channels.
Let me know what approaches have worked for your company. I look forward to continuing this dialogue in future posts.