Friday, 25 March 2011

Creating Loyal Customers

A few weeks ago I attended a luncheon put on by the Metroplex Technology Business Council (MTBC) in Dallas where the CTO of Southwest Airlines, Bob Young, was the Keynote speaker. Many people are aware of Southwest’s somewhat radical views of customer service, but I was again struck by how deeply that permeates throughout their entire operation. The companies all consuming motto is this (taken directly from their website): “We like to think of ourselves as a Customer Service company that happens to fly airplanes”.

How do they actually do this on a practical level?

Here are a few of the points Mr. Young mentioned:

• They hire people based on their personality more than experience – a job can be taught, but a personality can’t
• They listen to what customers are saying about them and their competition and they act on it.
• Travelers hate the baggage fees on the other airlines so; they are the only ones that don’t charge.
• Complaints continue to mount about the extra charges for snacks, drinks, pillows, etc. and, they don’t charge for theirs.
• Customers are concerned about the environment so, they have looked to various types of technologies as well as zeroing in on calculations of thrust to weight ratios, etc. to lessen their carbon footprint.
• Southwest has also created technology that allows most everything to be done on your Smartphone. One day you will be able to just walk through the airport doors and have your confirmation, boarding passes, etc. come straight to your phone.

But, here is the biggest challenge in the midst of running a business – they take the time to CARE about their customers beyond the travel experience.

For example: There is the story of one passenger that had a note on her boarding information for the flight staff that she was on her way to having a heart transplant so, they would be aware if any medical needs arose. When she arrived at the gate the Southwest employee that scanned her boarding pass and saw this just looked up at her and told her that everything would be alright. This meant so much to that passenger and it took perhaps a minute for that employee to say. A Southwest employee on the other end of her flight that saw the note took the time to call the hospital later to find out how she was doing and ended up being connected to that passenger’s family in the waiting room.

Granted, this took more time on the employee’s part, but what is that going to mean for their business?

• Do you think that entire family will choose Southwest Airlines the next time they fly?
• Do you think that passenger’s family and friends are going to tell a lot of people that story?
• Do you think that story is going to get people to choose Southwest Airlines over their competition?

It took some valuable time away from that employee’s “regular” job, but the result is possibly hundreds of loyal future customers that will choose Southwest over their competition every time it is possible.

What would change in your company if you made customer service the main product or service and what you sell as second?

Further Reading:

Southwest Airlines Customer Service Commitment

How Southwest Airlines Became a Model for Customer Loyalty

Lessons in Loyalty: How Southwest Airlines Does It – An Insider’s Point of View

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