Flying on an airplane can be a hassle these days. You may pay an arm and a leg for a plane ticket. Then you have to get to the airport hours before your flight to make sure you have plenty of time to wait in long lines to check your bags in and to go through security.
You may have a lot of time to wait around until your flight actually leaves if you get through all the lines faster than you anticipated. You may start to worry about having enough leg room on the airplane or if other passengers will be rude or annoying. You may also start worrying about your luggage and if it will be on the luggage carousel once you reach your destination.
There are so many things you could worry about when it comes to flying, but there is one airline that does its best to try and cut down your worries as much as possible: Southwest Airlines.
Southwest Airlines is one of the biggest airline companies in America today, but it originally started as just a Texas airline in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Despite having grown immensely, Southwest sticks to its roots and boasts as much of a worry-free flight experience as possible thanks to its extraordinary customer service and affordability which has created many loyal customers over the years.
How has Southwest been able to maintain its profitable business model for nearly 50 years? Part of it is due to market research.
Before diving into the market research aspect of Southwest’s business model, it’s important to note the first key to the airline’s success: its employees.
Aside from getting travelers from Point A to Point B safely, Southwest’s main goal is to provide exemplary customer service to all its customers. This is done by hiring the right people for the job, whether it’s pilots, flight attendants, baggage check-in attendants, you name it.
When hiring a new employee, Southwest looks for someone who is very people-oriented, empathetic, friendly, approachable and someone who is passionate about helping others. Hiring someone with these character traits helps ensure its employees will adhere to the company’s beliefs and values while performing their daily job duties.
In a nutshell, the logic behind the hiring process is you can’t train someone to be a morally good person for the job, they just have to inherently be a morally good person first.
By hiring the right people to represent the brand and put the company ethics into action, Southwest is then able to move on to properly executing its business model.
The Role Market Research Plays in Southwest’s Business Model
Since its early days, Southwest has prided itself on being the most cost-conscious and affordable option out there when it comes to air travel. Naturally, every brand would love to be known for that, but Southwest ensures it puts its people and customers first over making a dollar.
Due to Southwest’s desire to be the affordable airline option, the company relied upon market research to figure out who its target customer base should be.
As a result, Southwest founds its target customer base should be middle-class families, vacationers, people who need to travel short distances and young adults.
All these groups of people are traditionally those who search for the cheapest possible airfare. There are a few reasons for this. For families, the reasoning for wanting affordable airfare is so the whole family can go on a trip. For young adults and vacationers, the reasoning for wanting affordable airfare is so traveling or vacationing can be a part of life, even on a tight budget.
Southwest also depends on market research to help ensure their customer service continues to be outstandingly top-notch. This is done by conducting customer service surveys.
One survey told Southwest that, of the people polled, nearly 34% gave its customer service an excellent rating and only 3% of participants gave it a poor rating. By itself on the surface, these numbers look like they could be improved upon, and like anything, they could be improved.
Comparatively speaking though, Southwest’s percentages blow away the competition. United Airlines’ excellent customer service rating was just under 20% while its poor rating was just above 5%. American Airlines scored just under 19% for excellent customer service and nearly 6.5% for poor customer service. In the meantime, Delta Airlines scored under 18% for excellent customer service and over 10% for poor customer service.
The market research group at Temkin Experience Ratings also helps Southwest receive feedback about its customer service; Temkin annually polls 10,000 U.S. consumers across 20 industries on customer service experiences and feedback.
Since 2011, Southwest has led the way with the best all-around customer service in the airline industry out of the 10 major airlines consumers were polled about; 2015 was the only year Southwest lost out to JetBlue.
In that same poll, Southwest also came in 90th place out of the 331 companies included in the survey with a 73% high customer service satisfaction rating. This market research data demonstrates that Southwest is doing a good job upholding its customer service goals which ensures its business model is being effective.
Southwest also looks at additional types of market research data to help the company understand its customers’ preferences, tastes and expectations when it comes to flying. This allows the company to make subtle tweaks to its services and offer new experiences to help travelers enjoy their Southwest Airlines experience.
Market research in a modern sense has also helped Southwest go above and beyond with its customer service. Southwest created a “social business” department to help the company keep track of what its customers are saying about the airline on social media. This helps the company extinguish viral fires that more traditional forms of market research may allow to slip through the cracks due to the slower process of receiving results and data.
There is a lot that goes into upholding a major company’s brand standards, but Southwest Airlines is a prime example of how market research can help a brand maintain and even improve upon its standards, goals and consumer experience for decades.