Service Recovery Done Right Pays Off for US Airways


Kerry HesterSenior Vice President, Operations Planning and Support
US Airways

In the airline industry, attracting and retaining preferred customers takes a lot of effort. At US Airways, when we focused our efforts on providing reliable operations, we made tremendous strides. Then, with operations in check, our attention shifted to service – more specifically, service recovery. We knew that to deliver service standards, especially in service recovery situations, each employee’s skill and attitude would be critical.

We knew that we needed to help our Reservations and Airport Customer Service employees understand the benefits of delivering excellent service as well as service recovery when gaps occur. When a customer is dissatisfied and US Airways employees can correct that service failure, the customer is more likely to become or continue to be a loyal or preferred customer than if no service dissatisfaction occurred in the first place!

We needed a way to bring this concept to life so everyone understood, consistently and clearly, the importance of being reliable to customers and the steps involved in the service recovery model. The solution needed to link to our goal of being reliable by continuing as one of the best carriers in operating performance and being the best of the network carriers in service recovery.

Our solution was a Root Learning Map® module that focused on service recovery. In the sessions, employees reviewed our goal of being reliable through operations and service recovery. They celebrated past operational successes and explored service-related customer expectations, with service recovery expectations ranked among the top. They saw that if customers don’t get the level of service they require, they tell millions of other customers, potentially tarnishing the brand. Worse yet, we could lose highly valued frequent flyers, which means losing a lot of future business.

Nov. On-Time Arrivals
(Percent of flights arriving within 14 minutes of published time)
1) United 91.4
2) US Airways 86.0
3) American 85.3
4) Continetal 83.6
5) Delta 80.8
Nov. Customer Complaints
(Complaints per 100,000
enplanements to the DOT)
1) US Airways 0.97
2) Continental 1.10
3) American 1.11
4) United 1.22
5) Delta 1.38
Nov. Baggage Mishandlings
(Reports per 1,000 passengers)
1) US Airways 1.88
2) Continental 2.27
3) United 2.41
4) Delta 2.70
5) American 2.91

In small groups, employees discussed how, for many customer expectations, they themselves had control of the situation, such as keeping customers informed of delays or responding well when things go wrong. Participants reviewed their roles in basic service standards and explored the step-by-step process for service recovery by using the LEAD model – Listen, Empathize, Apologize, and Deliver.

The Learning Map® module was rolled out at 41 airports and five reservation centers across the international carrier’s system in June 2010. Employees traveled to the nearest station, enabling them to meet other US Airways’ employees. The sessions consisted of facilitator-led small group discussions centered on service recovery and detailed work focused on practicing and applying what had been covered and learning tactics of specific service recovery tools.

As a result of the sessions, US Airways experienced some great results. We saw utilization rates of service recovery tools nearly double after the training, and other service-related metrics increased nearly 15%. Customers noticed too – airport complaints were down, and we finished with the fewest U.S. Department of Transportation complaints among the nation’s major hub and spoke airlines three times during the year.

US Airways also ranked first for the year in baggage handling and second in on-time performance. This is a true testament to our focus on running a reliable operation and recovering well when things don’t go as planned. These accomplishments mean a better travel experience for customers and bonuses for US Airways employees. We paid out over $22 million system-wide in 2010 for performance incentives!