Though each day brings new hope, the pandemic continues to keep much of what was once “regular life” on hold. Society is not working, shopping, or traveling the same. Where this intersects with customer service is the abruptness of all the change and the uncertainty it brought for everyone. Despite this, some companies have demonstrated a better grasp of how to respond, and that’s the case with Alaska Airlines.
My wife (a teacher) and I had planned a vacation to coincide with her spring break in March this year. We had spent a few months researching a location (“must be warm” was one of her primary criteria) and the food and activities available in the area. We spent hours comparing flight, hotel, and rental car options. A key part of the plan was to use our Alaska Airlines Visa companion fare to save on the flights. It’s probably one of if not the best deals in travel.
You know where this is headed. In early March, as warnings were being issued about the virus’ spread and the government was urging the cancellation of unnecessary travel, we made the decision to call things off. The COVID-19 situation was escalating too quickly and in hindsight this was absolutely the correct move. The downside? Cancellation meant forfeiture of the companion fare. Still, it was the right thing to do. Like many people around the world, our spring break became a (long-term) staycation.
Continued updates and communication
Airlines and the travel industry in general have taken a beating as a result of the pandemic. With no end in sight, they will struggle to recover. Like many companies, Alaska Airlines has recognized the challenges ahead and has continued to engage with customers. As one of my preferred airlines, I was interested in the information they were sharing.
While they are eager to see travelers return and continue to promote deal after deal, I have found their communications to be appropriate for the current times. As the COVID-19 crisis has progressed, they have made several announcements about policy and procedural alterations they have made, including:
- no change or cancellation feeds for tickets booked through June 30, 2020
- an extension to frequent flyer elite status into 2021
- new safety protocols
- an extension to the expiration date for companion fare set to expire during 2020 to December 31, 2020
By sharing these and other modifications, Alaska Airlines is keeping customers engaged and informed of the steps they are taking to be ready for the time when customers feel safe and to remain a preferred carrier. While I’ve quickly reviewed all such communications, the email I received this past week on the last point was particularly interesting to me. If extensions were being offered, what about for those that had been cancelled? The email wasn’t entirely clear about my scenario, so I considered calling their customer service to make my case. Before I did that, though, I decided to check my Mileage Plan (frequent flyer) account online. Sure enough, I once again had a companion fare available to me–no action was necessary.
The lasting impact of proactive service
We’re living in extraordinary times. Things are improving, but there’s still an abundance of uncertainty. Businesses are doing their best to encourage customers to return.
These are exactly the times when companies must be providing unexpected and remarkable service.
Alaska Airlines’ change in companion fare policy reflects their high regard for customers. First, they made the decision to restore a lost benefit. Second, they did it automatically for all affected customers. And third, customers were notified. This is the basic recipe for proactive service. Is it any surprise they have receive a number one ranking in the J.D. Power 2019 North America Airline Satisfaction Study for twelve years? It helps explain my ongoing loyalty to them.
It’s easy to quantify the value of proactive service. Customers don’t anticipate it. Whatever the type of information it conveys–positive or negative–they appreciate hearing it. Expectations are set, like timing and outcome, which means customers need not contact customer service for updates and a resolution. For the company, it means tens, hundreds, perhaps even thousands of customers aren’t trying to contact customer service with the same question or issue. This minimizes costs and a hit to service levels as a result of higher contact volumes. Both customer and company benefits.
These times are unique and companies need to be considering the ways they can temporarily modify or permanently change their business model to retain customers and fuel a fast recovery. This is in addition to patience, kindness, and understanding both companies and customers must demonstrate during these times. And pandemic or not, delivering service in a proactive manner will always be +1 for the win.
Please note: other than being a regular passenger, I am not affiliated with Alaska Airlines in any way.