By Matt Pigott - September 18th, 2016

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From Southwest Airlines to Spotify: how a little love goes a long way

When it comes to customer service, tech rules. Or does it?

So does all of this mean that great customer service is all about the intelligent implementation of newly available tech?

In a word: no. Even in an increasingly tech-centred world, this idea falls short of the truth.  Stubbornly misunderstands it. Not least of all because the branded world is in a state of transition, and transition takes time. It’s not a case of out with the old in with the new, but more a case of, ‘let’s evolve’. The world is not yet exclusively full of digital natives. In four generations it will be, but we’re not there yet.

Modern customers want it here and they want it...now!

Even still, customer service expectations are changing. The modern consumer wants instant gratification, and if they don’t get it they’ll move on. Yet one thing that is unlikely to change for at least another millennium is that those customers will still want their hearts to be touched. And despite all of the technology that stands between a decision and an outcome, they will want to know that some sort of human involvement, albeit far removed and via a screen, has taken place.

Spotify Cares

Spotify is a prime example of a company that has achieved amazing market  penetration over the last five years, more or less affirming the end of the need for vinyl and compact discs. And while it’s a tech company, it’s a tech company dedicated to wearing, upon its digitized sleeve, a human heart. In a world that’s steadily moving toward replacing human resources with automation and chatbots, Spotify uses Twitter to communicate with its customers, and other users, in surprising and touching ways.

Perfect playlist equals primo customer service

One example was a surprise playlist gift to a user, called James, who brought a service issue to the company’s attention.

Spotify rapidly tweeted back: ‘Thanks, we’ll get this reported to our content folks. Here’s the prize for finding it’. The tweet was accompanied by a brand-curated list. The track order of reads: Sweet Baby James / The World Is / A /Better / Place / With You / In It / Stay / Classy.

Brilliant and classy in itself. But what’s interesting about this response is that it was timely, relevant, engaging, amusing and, most of all, touching. Taking the step from straightforward customer service delivery to real customer care requires deeper thought, and this is a prime instance of deeper thought put into action, of a well-known brand transforming what could be perceived as a low-level complaint into an opportunity to reach out on both a practical and emotional level.  

Customer care makes it to the cockpit

And take a look at what Southwest Airlines is doing. Turning ordinary transactions into memorable moments, using snatches of real life situations to deliver care and simultaneously augment its brand profile.

When Capt. Mike Hickey responded to the simple wave of a child, pulling up to the perimeter fence and opening his window to return the gesture, he had no idea that his basic act of communication would turn into a newsworthy story. But it did. Five-year-old Hudson Hughes, an aviation enthusiast and aspiring pilot, was thrilled to have been spotted and greeted by Hickey, and so was Hudson’s mother, so much so that she contributed her account of the experience to the Southwest airline’s blog. Albuquerque TV station KRQE picked up on the story, and ran a news piece featuring Mrs. Hughes, little man Hudson himself, and Hickey the pilot. The story was a real boost for the airline who had Hickey invite Hughes along to sit in the cockpit of the plane, ask questions about what being a pilot was like, before sending the little guy home with a bag of branded airline goodies.

Sometimes great service 'just happens'

This is a prime example of how 'great customer service' isn’t something that necessarily needs to be planned and orchestrated, but something that can happen on the spur of the moment. Of course, such moments happen all the time, every day. What brands need to do is, through the humdrum noise of daily business activities, pick up on them, then use them to highlight the positive aspects of their business and how they interact with their customers.

Importantly, in a world where people are staring into their screens as much as they are looking out into the world, real life human stories are rich currency. When they happen, it’s vital – as Southwest airlines did – to tell those stories effectively and share them on as many platforms as possible. After all, from a customer retention point of view it’s imperative to give great customer service, but from a brand building and customer acquisition perspective, when something good yet out of the ordinary happens, it’s important to spread the word and tell the world.  

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