Customer Service in Airlines | ACSI Scores

Customer Service In Airlines: Who Is Best and Does It Matter?

What airline has the best customer service scores? The annual American Customer Satisfaction Index for the airline industry was just released. If you are not familiar with the ASCI, here is a blurb from its site:

The ACSI reports scores on a scale of 0 to 100 at the national level. It also produces indexes for 10 economic sectors, 47 industries (including e-commerce and e-business), more than 225 companies, and over 100 federal or local government services. The measured companies, industries, and sectors are broadly representative of the U.S. economy serving American households. Smaller companies are grouped together in an “All Others” category for each industry.

The following chart shows the winners of the ASCI airline data for this year, as well as the historical trend.

Customer Service in Airlines | ACSI Scores

Source: June 2012 and Historical ACSI Scores

Are you surprised by the results? And more importantly, do they matter?

What Makes for Great Customer Service in an Airline?

Air travel has become commoditized. In my experience, most people make their decisions for air travel around price, time, and, on occasion, frequent flyer perks.

Think about it. When was the last time you chose an airline because of customer service? When was the last time that customer service overrode price or scheduling in your flight choice? When was the last time you said, I’ll get in two hours later and pay $75 more because I really love flying Brand X.

For the most part, it does not happen. And that is the essence of commoditization.

Airlines present an interesting customer service challenge for two reasons. First, the activity of flying has become inherently unpleasant. Even if the airline does a great job, for most people the best part of their flight is when it’s over. Sure, you can and should make the most out of it, but let’s face it, most people would rather be doing something else.

Second, based on my conversations, it seems that a “good” flight is usually one that has an absence of negatives, not an abundance of positives. A good flight is one in which…

  • You weren’t held up at security
  • You weren’t late
  • You didn’t get a seat near to a “bad” flier (i.e. smelly, noisy, nosy, excessively chatty, etc.)
  • Your flight attendant was not rude
  • They didn’t lose your luggage

In essence, a “good” flight is one in which most of the bad things that we expect out of air travel did not happen.

An Opportunity for Airlines

From pilots to flight attendants to ground crew, all airlines have amazing team members with the potential to deliver great service. Many of these team members are executing and delivering great service every day.

Yet, due to its nature, the process requires outstanding service because the experience is inherently unpleasant. Even Stuart Smalley would probably get grumpy trying to catch a flight at a major hub in the modern era.

The operational and financial constraints of air travel are a challenge that require outside of the box thinking to deliver customer service that makes the airline truly stand out. How do you deliver that personal touch without over-staffing? It’s a tough challenge, and I’m curious to hear thoughts from my fellow fliers.

What could airlines do to make the experience so good that you would sacrifice price and time (at least some) to fly that airline? Southwest Airlines is known for their “Nuts” approach to trying to make air travel fun. Have you flown Southwest and has that made a difference for you?


By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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