Success for commercial airline companies is determined by their profit and their profitability is increased by making the most of satisfying their customers and retaining loyalty.
Survey results in 2007 indicated that “airlines have work to do to improving customer satisfaction,” (AP, 2007). Delta Airlines ranked among the lowest and Southwest Airlines ranked among the highest in the survey areas of overall satisfaction, intentions to be a repeat customer, perceptions in expectations, value and quality in response to questions related to approval in a variety of industries including airlines.In order to gauge the level of customer contentment, whether or not it has improved for these two airline companies and how customer satisfaction differs between Southwest Airlines and Delta Airlines, a research project was conducted to find out how the customers now react to the respective airline companies and how well the airlines are trying to satisfy customers after making promises to do better. Our research involved the airport experiences on the ground to include, check-in, boarding, arrival, baggage and staff friendliness and efficiency.
Our research was carried out at KCI using a team of mystery shoppers who posed as travelers. Our mystery shopper team needed to find out what problems customers have with the airlines, how the problems are addressed and rate the general airline traveler experience at the airport. The results we found were mainly related to the sequence of events and we rated ending the customer-airline encounter on a positive noet with the highest mark.We recommend changes to the Southwest processes and different changes to the Delta processes to reduce the problems, which could have the result of increasing their profitability and inspire more loyalty to their brand.
Specific changes include the strategies Southwest and Delta airlines can use to achieve better relationships with their customers, improve the quality of service, monitor their performances on a regular basis to ensure consistency and introduce programs to further develop their employee’s skills in the customer service area.It is our intent to provide a basis in helping the airline management of Southwest and Delta to leverage customer service satisfaction and loyalty for a more profitable airline. Introduction (This section should give the details needed to understanding the problem): Since customer satisfaction is the most important factor affecting how much money an airline will make and whether or not the customers who fly on the airline will choose to fly again on the same airline, the risk of customer dissatisfaction is too great to ignore.According to Ben Aidoo, the Customer Service Institute states that “it costs five times as much to attract a new customer than to keep a current one satisfied,” and the Technical Assistance Research Program Institute shows that “91% of unhappy customers will never again buy from the company that displeased them and they will also tell at least 7 to 11 other people about their dissatisfaction” (Ezarticles, 2010).
Companies who learn to define targets for customer satisfaction and overcome the barriers to it are able to create and repeat doing business with their customers.An airline that is able to solve its ground service problems lessons the chances that customers will switch to another airline. After looking at the problems with customer service, the airlines will be able to start ways to respond in the best manner to keep people coming back. The better we can identify the problems in customer service for Southwest and Delta, the better they will be able to operate efficiently and have the result of more success in their businesses.
Some of the major aspects of airline customer service in the Southwest and Delta on the ground operations are: Discuss relevant facts about the airport terminal of both Southwest and Delta) After a review of research conducted prior to ours and the research project we did, we will present strategies for increasing customer service satisfaction and reducing dissatisfaction. Statement of the Problem (Outline of the research problem) It is important to develop methods and strategies for use in the airline industry to increase customer satisfaction. Airline travel is the fastest means of transportation available for the common individual.Without the factor of customers being satisfied with the overall airline service, then the number of customers would decline, the airlines would lose money, and the cost of flying would increase.
To keep their customers happy and to attract more travelers to their company, an airline needs to invest in customer service training, which would then reduce customer dissatisfaction. We think our study results could lead to some useful changes in the way airlines treat their customers at the airport.Eighty-five percent of airline passengers have at least two choices of airlines to fly and more than 6o million people fly every year (AVjobs, 2010). About 35% to 40% of those air travelers are regular flyers.
The way we can understand what a customer needs and wants from an airline takes time and means we need to collect information about this complex subject. We decided to focus on just two airlines to answer our research question. What is the relationship between customer satisfaction levels and their patronage of either Southwest airlines or Delta airlines? Literature ReviewThe realization that consumer satisfaction is crucial to meeting the needs of customers, business and society has led to an increase in the amount of research on consumer satisfaction over the past two decades (Yi, 1993). The literature we reviewed included studies, articles and some statistical data and was almost unanimous that customer satisfaction is of critical importance and that understanding the expectations, wants and needs is vital (UNT, 2010).
Secondary research also indicates that customer satisfaction is a timely emotional response to some experience.Successful industries respond to their customers on a regular basis and try to identify and anticipate problems (Adebanjo, 2001). The literature also suggests a wide variety in the definition of what customer satisfaction entails, which could present a problem in the assignment of measures of satisfaction in order to compare the results of our research to customer satisfaction in other industries besides airlines (Giese & Cote, 2002). A 2007 report on air travel states that the airline industry competes on price, rather than quality (Minor).
The service to passengers is cited as the reason that airlines received an American Consumer Satisfaction Index score reflecting a lower score than in previous evaluations (Minor, 2007). University of Michigan research found that for the last 13 years airline customers are the least satisfied consumers (Reed, 2007). The response from the airlines to a negative reaction of patrons is usually to reduce the amount of money they charge for a ticket, but fares can only be dropped so far.Therefore, it seems reasonable to believe that airline customer service has to perform consistently and follow higher standards set by the management to better meet the needs and wants of their consumers (Logie & Quest, 2003).
One way to set the standards and establish guidelines for on-the-ground airline personnel is to study the best practices, operating tactics and winning strategies in the airline industry (Best Practices, LLC).The best in any business can reduce their costs and increase their profits by listening to customer feedback to learn underlying problems creating customer dissatisfaction (Johnson & Curtis, 1996). In fact, JetBlue airlines, who has won customer satisfaction awards for four years straight offered a Customer Bill of Rights in response to an episode that left passengers on a tarmac for more than eight hours (Hucko, 2007). JetBlue’s Voice of the Customer is their method of receiving feedback that provides “actionable insights” (Business Wire, 2011).
Even though you can examine the best practices of an industry because their customers rate the highest on satisfaction levels, it is only one indicator of what constitutes airline customer satisfaction (Investor, 2008). Shannon Anderson of Rice University said her research found little hard evidence that improving airline customer service will improve profits due to unavoidable flight delays (Reed, 2007). A survey done in 2009 to determine what customers value found that price is first, scheduling is second, and a reasonable standard of service is three on how they felt about an airline (Choice Survey, 2009).Theorists have suggested a customer service design that includes the sequence and a positive ending to the interaction (Desu & Chase, 2010).
Delta Airlines made the decision in 2006 to make customer centricity the focus of their marketing plans (Sokol, 2011). At Southwest Airlines, customer loyalty is derived from warmth and spirit; and, the number one customer is the employee (Taylor, 2005). Mystery customer surveys are commonly used in staff training and appraisals in service industries like airlines (Starmass, 2011).This research report will focus on reasonable standard of service in the airport terminals of Southwest Airlines and Delta Airlines at KCI to observe their interaction with customers.
Research Design Our exploratory research design is a quantitative method using mystery shopping in “a systematic observation using standardized procedures, trained observers, and schedules for recording that mirror the scientific procedures of other primary data methods” (Cooper-Schlinder, 2006, p. 228).Our casual, cross-sectional, ex post facto statistical study will draw conclusions by testing our hypothesis and will use random sampling techniques so we can make inferences from our sample population in a field setting monitoring actual routine. We will measure observable behavior and think that if our study is duplicated that it will prove to be reliable and produce similar results.
We will measure what our hypothesis sets forth as the main question we want to answer. The mystery shopper technique is a direct observational methodology where our trained observers will assume the role of airline customer.The observation method “is the only method available” to collect some types of original data and monitor the entire event “at the time it occurs,’ overcomes questioning deficiencies, and “secures information most participants would ignore” (p. 228).
Our chosen method for this project has limitations, but allows for “unobtrusive observation” and eliminates the bias effect of participants’ behavior (p. 228). Mystery Shopping is a long-established operational research technique and is used on the front line to collect data (Mickelson, 2003).The advantage of mystery shoppers over using customer surveys, another common vehicle to find out levels of airline customer satisfaction, is that our researchers will be able to tell the story of their data collection experience, relate their objective observations and will be a more persuasive tool to elevate the airline staff service skills to a higher level.
The participant observers will be trained to avoid distractions, to be aware of the “ethical issue” of concealing their true purpose and report events and behaviors as they occur (p. 30). All observers will blend into the airport traveler population and appear to be either commuters or persons waiting for an airplane arrival. We know the observation method we have chosen has its limits, such as being slow and expensive and limited to assessing “information that can be learned by overt action or surface indicators,” but believe events will be stimulating enough to keep our team engaged due to the low rating customer service has received in the airline industry (p.
228).The airline personnel at both Southwest and Delta will not know we are researchers collecting data on the customer experience with them. This method will mean that the data we collect will have fewer errors than those in self-reporting and other methods of surveys that cannot observe directly. We will prepare an error reduction plan and prepare our observation list.
Our results of the monitors and measures of front line customer service will be analyzed and used along with other research, such a market research to improve airline service quality and increase customer retention. MethodologyThe Kansas City International Airport has Southwest Airlines, the largest carrier at this airport that operates 68 flights per day with a total of approximately 9,000 flying customers per day; Delta Air Lines carries the second highest number of passengers at the airport totaling about 2,100 passengers per day (Wikipedia, 2011). For our scheduled observation our mystery shoppers, who have been verified in the observation protocol, will visit both airlines on six different shifts and on six different days to surreptitiously write down their observations of at least 40 customers, or 10 per hour from each visit.Ten researchers will be sent to each airline for a period of four hours to observe nonverbal behavior, linguistic behavior, extralinguistic behavior, and spatial relationships of 10 customers each per hour.
This data collection that will answer our measurement questions (observation checklist) will give us 6 evaluations times from each airline encompassing a total of 1200 customer experiences from each airline, giving us data to analyze from the entire sum of 2400 observations. Our sample size will be large enough to have a fairly small confidence interval and use a 95% confidence level. From the moment our research mystery shoppers enter terminals of Southwest and Delta, they will follow specific guidelines on what they will do during their evaluations. There is no typical airline customer and the airline customer population is a representative sample of our larger population, therefore, our researchers’ profiles are a close match to the real airline customers in all ages, household incomes, educational levels and ethnicity.
The mystery Shoppers will be skilled, trained in observation, “concentration, detail-oriented, unobtrusive and experienced;” and, be knowledgeable of audit tools (p. 34). The questionnaires they will use will be designed to give objective, observational feedback in a system of checks and balances. Our questions categories will be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no;’ specific questions in each category will be on a scale from very satisfied to very dissatisfied, and will include open-ended narratives for the researchers to explain significant observations.
We will observe overall satisfaction and then the reason for the satisfaction. Our questionnaires will have point scoring scale so the inquiries will be of quantitative importance. * There will be five categories of investigation and each will have questions relating to that category: Check-in service (ease of check-in – automated or in person, waiting times), arrival services (transfers, ground transportation, restroom location), boarding procedures (by class, by group, waiting times), friendliness and efficiency of ground staff (how welcoming, how helpful, apologize for any problems) and baggage (location baggage retrieval, delivery and delays). Expected Results and Analysis Here’s where graphs can come in.
See pages 232, Exhibit 9-4 (your study is completely unstructured in natural setting) and graph 9-5 Expected results should include “time sampling” and “event sampling” (see p. 235) and (p. 237) about reactivity response and unobtrusive measures. Findings can be things like: Air travel dissatisfaction is due to the unpleasant airline staff, in part.
Lost and damaged luggage are another reason for dissatisfaction Tell the total scores for each category and then compare airlines and discuss. Use chart on page 239 for your actual observational design using the questions under the five categories cited above in the paper, i. . check-in, arrival, etc Our mystery shoppers may have been detected by some of the airline staff, which means if the person being watched knew it they might change their behavior.
The participants then “perceive deviations as researcher-induced” (p. 142). Tell how you overcame the large volume of information gathered, how you rated each answer on a scale then added up each category to find out customer satisfaction. End by comparing figures gathered from Southwest to those from Delta and make a judgment call why the customers at Southwest are more satisfied than those at Delta.
Expected Conclusions and Recommendations The answers we found to our hypothesis question of what the difference is in how two different airlines treat their customers which leads to various degrees of satisfaction and dissatisfaction can lead to a formal study with precise procedures and data source specifications (p. 140). Our casual study found relationships between our variables (our categories and the questions related to them and our rating of the answers) so we could answer the hypothesis of the differences in customer satisfaction between Southwest and Delta.Ours was a cross sectional study taking place over a short period of time and produced a snapshot of events.
Reccomendations: Make your employees happy because if they are they will give better customer service. Hire capable and friendly people for the counters and boarding areas, stop with hidden fees so the surprises at check in are minimal, improve the luggage retrieval system – with so many items lost or received in damaged condition, some updates are called for, and don’t make passengers board too early. See Executive Summary to make sure the conclusions and recommendations match those in the introduction.