Three lessons in customer service for airline brands, from Ron Kaufman

Last week, I attended a very refreshing workshop on customer service in Singapore. Ron Kaufman, one of the best-known customer service coaches in the region, led it. I found his ideas on how front-line staff should deal with customers immediately applicable to the airline world.

Inspired from Ron’s workshop, I’ve taken three of the best lessons from him and suggested here how airlines can use these to drive brand loyalty.

Do something unbelievable

In Ron’s words, delivering unbelievable customer service comes above delivering an expected or desirable customer service. Seth Godin would call this the “Purple Cow Effect”. It’s about doing something that’s customers don’t expect, in turn getting them to talk about to with their friends.

A very good example of this is the now-famous rapping flight attendant from Southwest Airlines. He did something mundane – reading out pre-fight safety instructions – in an unbelievable way. And not only was this much appreciated by those on the flight, but the word spread and this rapping flight attendant was a huge hit on YouTube. He even made it to Oprah! That’s the power of unbelievable.

There is such a thing as karma – Give first

Ron believes that customer service is about giving first, before asking. Often, companies expect the customer to give first, then provide the service. What about turning around the tables?

For example, if a prospective customer is price-hunting, he may talk for a long time with the airline ticketing agent before deciding to buy the ticket. If the agent is courteous and patient, it’s much more likely that the customer will end up buying the ticket. This has happened many times with me, when I intended to only check the prices, but ended up buying from the agent who was the friendliest, rather than the one who offered the lowest prices.

Providing excellent customer service without expecting anything in return may often end up benefitting the airline.

Always look to grow the partnership

There are two key words in this phrase that Ron pointed out – grow and partnership. A partnership as opposed to a relationship with a customer means it’s a win-win proposition. Both parties work to benefit each other. If an airline constantly impresses a passenger, then he’s likely not only to give them more business but also recommend his friends to the airline.

More importantly, the partnership must grow over time. Each party must do more for the other – add more value than previously. This is what keeps the other party constantly interested.

Can you think of examples where airlines have applied these lessons successfully? Singapore Airlines’ birthday cakes, Malaysia Airlines’ chicken-satay, Virgin’s Upper-Class and JetBlue’s LiveTV come to my mind. What’re some other examples of airlines providing exceptional customer service?

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Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam is a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is the Founder and CEO of SimpliFlying, one of the world’s largest aviation marketing firms working with over 85 aviation clients in the last ten years. Nigam is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior executives globally, from Chile to China. Nigam’s impassioned and honest perspectives on airline marketing have found their way to over 100 leading media outlets, including the BBC, CNBC, Reuters and Bloomberg, and into leading publications such as The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. He writes a dedicated monthly column in Flight’s Airline Business, challenging the typical assumptions about airline marketing. His new book on airline marketing, SOAR, is an Amazon bestseller that’s shaking up the industry and inspiring other industries to learn from the best airlines. Born in India, raised in Singapore, he now lives with his wife and two young daughters in Toronto.
Shashank Nigam
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