It’s the Customer, Stupid
Westjet’s fleet is running with more than 80% of its seats filled. Porter is a little less but still had a stellar year. Both airlines have shown growth despite a weak economy and soft demand for business and vacation travel. Air Canada, meanwhile, has seen small decrease in load factors.
But aren’t all the airlines the same? The planes aren’t much different: Boeing, Airbus or DeHavilland. The fares and schedules are pretty much the same. Destinations are similar. So what differentiates Westjet and Porter from the rest of Canada’s airlines?
I believe the difference maker is customer service and customer experience.
Westjet makes no secret that it borrowed heavily from Herb Kelliher’s Southwest Airlines business model. Westjet is obsessed with customer service – and ensuring that the customer experience is low stress, fun and memorable. Porter exudes service and class. The Porter passenger lounges are available to all Porter passengers and are luxurious havens. Onboard service is first class including real china and cutlery.
Obsessive customer service and exceptional customer experience are not new concepts. And while private sector leaders can always do more to improve customer service and customer experience, I believe that the real challenge is for leaders in the public sector to start thinking about it as well.
Leaders in the public sector need to consider how they can reshape our public organizations -hospitals, government offices, agencies and schools- to model their service around the customer instead of policies, rules and mandates. While public consumers often cannot “vote with their feet” as they can in the private sector, there is still no compelling reason why the lessons of Westjet or Porter cannot lead to improved experiences for the consumers of public services.
Improved customer service and experience in the public sector is critical to restoring trust and value in the public service. All too often, criticism of rude and abrupt public servants and self-serving bureaucracies is valid because the focus is not on the customer, but on preserving the organization and the status quo. A good example is how firefighters -who are public servants- are held up as heroes while their colleagues in the tax department or school board office are often criticized. It’s because fire services focus on their customers. They are obsessed with saving lives and preventing fires. People get that. The value of the tax department still needs some work.
Shifting public organizations from a focus on their own needs, to those of the people they serve, is a positive step toward a much-needed transformation of public services.