Every business strives to offer quality customer service, but brands that do so both successfully and consistently are rare. That’s because customer service is a fluid practice, if not completely subjective. Representatives must constantly adapt their approach to match the consumer they’re engaged with, making customer service a skill that takes significant practice to master.
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The good news is that customer service is easier to grasp when seen in action. Earlier this year, Newsweek released America’s Best Customer Service 2019, a report listing high satisfaction rankings across multiple industries and business types. By reviewing the featured brands, we can better understand best practices and top methods for delivering an exemplary experience.
Let’s take a closer look at some top-rated organizations within the travel and hospitality sectors:
Airlines: Alaska Airlines
Newsweek Score: 8.47
Alaska Airlines isn’t as well known as JetBlue or United, but it consistently excels at customer service. Since its founding in 1932, the organization has frequently treated customer service as a core strategic priority. Even when facing profit losses in the 1990s, these practices weren’t sidetracked for short-term cost-cutting measures. Alaska Airlines views customer satisfaction as a core performance metric alongside all other economic factors.
Alaska’s “Beyond Service” training program periodically retrains their 9,000 employees in customer service best practices. The airline also makes a special effort to collect and respond to feedback from everyday travelers, implementing changes based on their suggestions. That’s why Alaska Airlines was the first US carrier to sell tickets over the internet and why it boasts higher quality food and more comfortable seating than competitors. More recently, they’ve begun looking into ways to improve mobile device use while airborne.
The airline’s customer service is widely praised by Newsweek and Air Transport World for offering comprehensive support to customers – even when they’re not in the air. A prime example comes from customer service manager Dawn Carl, who rushed home during a storm to cook meals for passengers, employees, and TSA agents when all flights were grounded. That’s a level of dedication few brands can manage, and it’s why Alaska Airlines tops this Newsweek category.
Up To 3 Star Hotel Chains: Courtyard by Marriott
Newsweek Score: 8.73
While Marriott is recognized for many of its hotel brands, Newsweek highly praised the Courtyard chain for its customer service expertise. The main factor in this recognition is its Golden Rule social media campaign, which invited guests to post about their experiences with the hotel. Cunning business strategy or not, it revealed several positive stories of Courtyard staff who went well beyond their expected responsibilities.
One of the best examples comes from a former guest who’s aunt was staying at Courtyard’s South Carolina location during Hurricane Matthew. Despite lacking electricity, the Courtyard staff managed to feed all guests for free, many of whom were stranded and couldn’t leave the area. This generosity was reflected in everyone from management to frontline staff, including employees who obtained supplies each day.
Courtyard has published other examples as well. Letters shared from chairman Bill Marriott describe attempts to help flustered guests with last-minute bookings or arranging to send rushed customers to the airport. These anecdotes go a long way towards helping customers feel appreciated and maintaining their Golden Rule standard.
The Ritz Carlton
Category: Upscale Hotel Chains
Newsweek Score: 8.98
Noting that 70% of learning occurs on the job, the Ritz Carlton developed a training process that teaches key service skills to employees from various technical backgrounds.
The hotel chain’s goal is to help staff members become proficient in Gold Standard certified customer service within 21 days of employment. It does this by assigning every new employee a coach who provides on-site job training, monitors progress, and offers suggestions on how to improve. This information is supplemented through online training tools and operational manuals, but always emphasizes ongoing learning over standardized training.
While this process takes longer than other training programs, it certainly bears results. According to the Ritz Carlton’s Asia-Pacific Vice President Mark DeCocinis, each new employee receives 250 hours of training in their first year. This has given the Ritz Carlton a competitive advantage internationally, leading to increased customer and employee satisfaction with the brand. Today, the chain’s training program is considered a hospitality industry benchmark, and Ritz Carlton has won multiple best employer awards in the Asia-Pacific region.
Whatever differences they contain, all three of the aforementioned brands make customer service a top priority. Whether onboarding new employees or responding quickly in the face of crisis, each organization always prioritizes its customers’ needs. Not only does this lead to good press, but it creates the greatest competitive advantage of all – resulting in a business environment that customers genuinely enjoy and appreciate.