A number of years ago, I read an article that really struck a chord with me, leaving me with a lasting impression and a passion for excellent customer service. The story was about the incredible turnaround of Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) by Jan Carlzon in the early 80’s from being a loss-making organisation of approximately $17 million to becoming a profitable business within one year.
At the time, SAS had a reputation for always being late, ranking 14 out of 17 in a European survey carried out that year. They were also known as being a very centralized company where it was impossible for staff to make any day-today decisions. This inability by staff to take ownership and responsibility led to a very demotivated workforce; thereby affecting the overall quality of customer service much to the detriment of customers. However all was not lost.
When Jan took over as CEO, one of the first things he did was to look at each step of the service cycle, which he called “the moments of truth”. These were the touch points where employees come into contact with the customer; thereby meeting, failing or exceeding the “customer’s expectations”.
Jan worked through each step of the customer experience, discovering that there were potentially hundreds of these “moments of truth”. They are mainly based around the airline but also involve other aspects of the business too. For example, one point maybe when you get to the airport and look for parking but there are no spaces available. Whereas another might be when you arrive to the check-in desk to find no queues, a very friendly attendant who adds little touches to the conversation such as using your name and wishing you a pleasant flight.
Even though a customer may have some amazing experiences along the way, SAS were fully aware that the level of service needed to be maintained right through to the end when a customer picks up their luggage and finally leaves the airport.
What was most interesting was that SAS also realised the significance of it all in monetary and business terms, when you consider the thousands of customers staff meet every day. As a result, the company embarked on a powerful focus in customer service quality.
As part of these changes, SAS employed a company called TMI (Time Manager International) to deliver a programme called “Putting people first”. The aim of the course was to focus on delegating responsibility away from management, empowering the customer-facing employees to make decisions and resolve customer queries on the spot, resulting in a more highly motivated workforce.
The impact for SAS was so great in those first 12 months, that they boasted a profit of $54 million and became the most punctual airline in Europe in 1982.
What I loved most about this story, is that it really proves that companies who embrace the concept of providing excellent customer at every step of the service cycle (moments of truth) will benefit tenfold. In believe that if companies are open to continuously develop and improve how they interact with customers, this can only result to motivate staff, generate happier customers and a produce healthy bottom-line.