Alaska Airlines Shows How to Deliver Excellent CXs

Jun 06, 2017

Air travel and superb customer experiences (CXs) are not usually thought of in the same breath. Taking a plane all too often means enduring uncomfortable seats, obnoxious other customers, harried staff, lost luggage, long delays, mounting fees, worsening loyalty programs, and, sadly, it also always means unavoidable tightening security.

But one airline, Alaska Airlines, has shown how flying and excellent CXs can be excellent companions. Alaska Airlines has now topped the J.D. Power charts for customer satisfaction among traditional carriers for the 10th consecutive year.

A recent Bloomberg article, “Why Little Alaska Airlines Has the Happiest Customers in the Sky” , outlines the reasons why:

  • Focus on the flying experience. Alaska had the widest margins over its rivals in the boarding, deplaning, and baggage handling category.  The airline also stood out in user-friendly booking, check-in experience, and critically, flight crews. 
  • Treating customers as valuable individuals through employee empowerment. Alaska Airlines enables its personnel to resolve customers’ problems on the spot through a mobile platform and a generous compensation budget.  Employees are issued “empowerment toolkits” containing incentives they can offer to resolve complaints as part of their training.  
  • Excellent loyalty program. Alaska still rewards on flight distance, not on ticket price and it grandfathers reward status. Alaska Airlines miles can be used to fly on other airlines thanks to its partnerships with other carriers and they are often redeemable at a higher value.
  • High employee morale that comes across to customers, positively impacting CXs

Alaska Airlines’ success is all the more remarkable in view that the carrier flies in one of the most challenging environments on the continent. Its home region is noted for fog, rain, snow, and mountains, with steep slopes ascending from the sea, volcanoes (Mount Rainier, which is dormant, looms over the Seattle-Tacoma area that is home to Alaska Airlines’ HQ and its Sea-Tac Airport hub), and earthquakes.

In turn, customers have rewarded Alaska Airlines. Bloomberg reported that Alaska was the only major U.S. airline that saw customer revenue growth from nonpartner flights, with a 40% increase in net income in 2015.

Alaska Airlines’ reputation is about to improve further through its recent acquisition of Virgin America, which also has been known for excellent flying CXs.  According to Bloomberg, Alaska Airlines plans to incorporate Virgin America’s elan into the airline’s culture and offerings.  Alaska may even acquire JetBlue, another airline also long noted for superb CXs. These moves will grow Alaska Airlines’ successful customer-focused network.

Other airlines are taking note.  J.D. Power reports that while airline customer satisfaction is lower than most service industries it is improving.

“It’s impossible to think about airline customer satisfaction without replaying the recent images of a passenger being dragged from a seat, but our data shows that, as a whole, the airline industry has been making marked improvements in customer satisfaction across a variety of metrics, from ticket cost to flight crew,” said Michael Taylor, travel practice lead at J.D. Power.

The big takeway is this: the methods Alaska Airlines uses: namely delivering excellent products and services, employee empowerment, and above all a proven and intrinsic commitment to customers can—and should be—adopted by all companies, regardless of their industry verticals. Those businesses that follow these best practices have the best opportunity for success in today’s highly competitive marketplace.


Brendan Read

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Brendan Read is Senior Industry Analyst with over 25 years’ experience covering business, communications, staffing, and technology. He has worked in, prepared reports, and blogged on a wide range of topics including customer contact, CX, CRM, IoT, social media, supply chain, and BC/DR. He also has backgrounds in construction, manufacturing, materials, resource extraction, site selection, and transportation. He examines the broad economic, environmental, innovation, political, and social mega trends, and their impacts on businesses, markets, and society.


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