In a market that’s taken an absolute beating over the past four years and where razor-thin profit margins are the norm, one company keeps churning out a profit, year after year: Southwest Airlines.
Seth Stevenson had a really sharp breakdown on Slate Tuesday about how the company has remained so successful in the fact of a brutal economy and some really reduced travel budgets, both for businesspeople and vacationers alike.
The answer, in short (really short, actually) is: KISS. Keep it simple, stupid. By simplifying their operations to the most basic, efficient, and essential elements, Southwest was able to shed tons of costs that other airlines regularly incur — and keep moving up and to the right, year after year.
(In fairness, Southwest also came up roses after hedging its fuel costs several years ago, which has certainly helped.)
But there’s a lesson in here for field service organizations, too. By focusing on reducing costs through smarter, simpler operations, they, too, can increase margins and deliver a sustainable, profitable service that breeds loyal customers.
Lesson 1: Simplify the Fleet
Southwest uses one kind of airplane: The Boeing 737. One plane. That means when a part breaks down, or an engine fails on the runway, there’s always a spare part — or, if need be, a spare plane — close at hand. It also means mechanics only need to fix one kind of machine, saving costs on training.
Field service departments that operate a vehicle fleet should heed some of that advice, too. A simple, easy-to-understand, and consistent fleet that’s fully armed with the right tools every time means techs don’t show up to a job without the right part. That also lets techs swap out their vans if one blows a tire, or won’t start up on a cold morning.
Lesson 2: Smart Dispatching
Southwest differs from its competitors in that it doesn’t use a hub system; instead, it flies mostly point-to-point. That means fewer delays, since bad weather at a hub backs up every plane, not just the ones destined for that location. On-time arrivals are one of the biggest customer concerns about airlines.
Is there a smarter way a field service department can dispatch its technicians? People hate — hate — waiting around all day for a repairman to show up because he’s been backed up somewhere else. Route optimizing, assigning the closest technician to the closest job, and even notifying customers when a tech is en route all go a long way toward better on-time arrivals, and happier customers.
Lesson 3: Great Customer Service
Let’s be honest: You know what you’re getting with Southwest. It isn’t luxury — but most business commuters (which they target) aren’t looking for that. It’s reliable, simple, and friendly. That, ultimately, means great customer service.
Field service departments should focus on their customer service, too. Are field techs personable when they’re in the field? (That goes a longer way than you might think toward customer retention rates.) Have you made your service as easy as possible for customers to find and secure? Do you offer customer support through the channels your customers prefer? Can they schedule an appointment online, or with their smartphone? Do you offer flexible appointment times?
By simplifying operations, focusing on great — and easily available — service, your field service department can also put some of Southwest’s lessons into practice.