Before discussing about the sampled company, the characteristics of services have to be first defined in order to get a better understanding of the subject matter. Services are satisfactions, activities and benefits that are being offered for sale or bundled with other goods on sale. It poses unique challenges to marketing experts because of its intangibility. Since services are type of products that does not have the physical attributes because in order to make the services tangible, marketers would need to attach significant tangible alterations to the services being offered. It has three important characteristics such as heterogeneity, perishability and simultaneity of production and consumption. To apply these principles to Southwest Airlines, the stiff competition in the airline services threatens the company with smaller revenue, oil price hike and threats of terrorism. Because of the company's several dilemmas, its marketing executives are thinking of new ways to drive more passengers into their air travel services. It is difficult for the marketers of Southwest Airlines to sell their service because of the product's intangibility. The only way for the airline's marketers to address the problem is to integrate tangible services offers that will set them apart from the competition.
One of the things that the company is doing is to attach a tangible offer such as “Bags fly free”. It is not new to the riding public that luggage and heavy bags do not come free to travel. One thing that Southwest Airline offers is to subsidize the fee that is being charged to the customer for the luggage. The company is plagued by several complaints about flight delays and it affects their selling performance making it more difficult for the company's marketers to sell the services as an intangible product alone. They need to integrate a tangible offer such as free luggage fees to entice the customers to neglect the time issues and focus on the offered value for service (Johnsson and Hilkevitch, 2011, Web).
Adequately managing and maintaining the quality of service is important in setting the customers expectations. Customers pay good money for the services they purchase, because of the characteristic of service products being simultaneously bought and consumed. The customers do not have the chance to make replacements or return the service they purchased. Therefore, meeting the customer's expectations are important in keeping the business going. Being able to meet customer's expectations means revenue increase for the company, ensuring repeat business and establishing the company's reputation (Dean , 2002. P. 2-3). Knowing what the customer expects from the business enables the company to reinvent their services, develop innovations and measure quality. For example, when calling the Southwest Airlines customer service hotline to change or cancel a flight the voice prompt will normally tell the customer to wait for 8-14 minutes. However, a representative always attends to the call after 3 minutes of wait. This means the customer expects to wait longer on the phone, but the company was able to service the call earlier than the customer expects. There was no promise of early availability to attend by a representative, but they were able to meet the expectations within the given waiting time and by doing so Southwest Airline was able to meet and exceed the customer's expectations.
For Southwest Airlines, their staff are the frontiers of the business, they are the main people that interact with the customer's on a daily basis. Therefore, their role in the management of service quality is important in such a way that the staff is the one's the customers first interact with. The employees of Southwest Airlines uphold the values of the company in the work they perform. Being the employees of the company means representing the its name in general and customer satisfaction is important in creating the first impression to the customers about the company and the quality of service they provide. Customer interaction is the key element that is being used by Southwest Airlines to build customer satisfaction.
Dean, A. M. (2002). Rethinking Customer Expectation of Service Quality: Are Call Centers Different? Working Paper Series, 53(2), 2-3.
Johnsson, J., & Hilkevitch, J. (2011, March 3). As Southwest Airlines tries to cope with its success, problems at Midway will get team's attention. The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 14, 2012, from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-03-03/business/ct-biz-0304-southwest-midway-20110303_1_ceo-gary-kelly-southwest-airport-flights