With the previous collapse of the airline industry and now a financial crisis, the climate for competitiveness is now more important than ever. Those who take the time and revamp their customer/user experience will win. Those who do not take the time to redesign their experiences will fail and wither. Here, I will review two different airlines and what they have to offer.
Delta Airlines - Portland, ME to Atlanta, GA (with return)
I took this flight a while back for some HFI training. It was pretty straight-forward to check-in. There was a service agent there to help with everything and checking in baggage was a breeze. There also wasn't much to be said about the flight itself. However, once I got to my destination, I found out my bag had been placed on a plane two hours behind me. I had to find this out after queuing for an hour behind 100 other people at the Delta customer service desk. So I had time to kill in the airport in Atlanta - and since it was enormous, it wasn't too much of a problem - that is, until I got bored. And once I got my luggage, there was no apology, no service. I just went to the carousel where the flight had my bag and left.
On the flight back, checking-in was a little different. To deal with the sheer volume of people and flights, Delta had kiosks. Each kiosk had about 100 sqft around it so everyone had a bit of personal space (especially with luggage). The interface was a little difficult to manage - but no matter. All you have to do is call on an agent and they were more than happy to help. After using the kiosk, you line up to check your bags, which was actually quite swift. Though, after that, the experience was much the same - just get me to the destination (with my luggage) and I'll be happy.
Southwest Airlines - Manchester, NH to Orlando, FL (with return, vacation)
This airline is now known to have a good reputation for its customer service. I must admit though, when I first lined up to check-in my luggage, this wasn't the case. The queue was long just to access one of the kiosks that were lined-up along the long check-in desk. It was also chaotic. Because of the long line and the many people already at the kiosks, it was difficult to see which kiosks were open. And then once at the kiosk, there was little to no indication what we were supposed to do - contact an agent or proceed with the kiosk. With that conundrum, I waited an extra 5 minutes to ask the busy agent walking up and down the area what I should do. Apparently, once we got started, we printed our luggage tags and still had to check-in our 1-year old which took another several minutes.
With the bags checked and security checked, we headed to the gate to relax before boarding. And this is the interesting part. Since there were no assigned seats, there were instead, assigned boarding queues. Anyone could sit anywhere but 99.9% of the time, the ones boarding first sat near the front - so they could get out first. (FIFO) Because of this different procedure, I had to review the process for boarding online - and they had a specific website where you can do that.
Now I must ask - how motivated do you think you'd be to go to this website to learn what Southwest's procedures are? Booking the flight was easy when done online. I didn't have to have an agent book it for me. It was all self-serve. So that must mean learning the procedure can also be self-serve.
And when we were on the plane, the customer service didn't end. Humor was injected anywhere Southwest could. There was the pilot's immaculate imitation of Porky Pig singing a carol, the attendents' most genuine smiles, and the returning pilot telling everyone "Okay, get out," once we were docked.
The other greater customer service experience came when my mother's bag went missing. She flew Southwest as well but from Buffalo to Tampa. Southwest informed her to get to her destination and they will have it shipped to the nearest airport. In this case, it was Fort Myers. When I drove her to get her bag, it was quick. Her bag was there at the agreed time (one day after) and there was a note attached to the bag which was meant for the service agent saying, "Bag was not picked-up at Buffalo. Apologize a lot". She ended up with a $75 voucher for her next flight.
The conclusion is simple. And the difference between these two airlines' customer/user experience is simple. Make the journey memorable. Aside from the chaotic check-in for newbies, Southwest makes it pleasant. Delta on the other hand...