Many companies get a few things right when it comes to experience, but organizations that put the customers – and employees – at the heart of the brand earn a stellar reputation and gain market share from the competition. This example of a Soulful Experience, from my soon-to-be published book, is a story that I encourage you to share with your entire organization.
I travel frequently. Airfare to Orange County and Las Vegas can be found for as low as $49 during price wars, and I’ve flown the thousand miles with just about every airline that departs from Denver.
Most of the time I travel light, carrying a small suitcase that is placed in the overhead bin. But these days several airlines charge a fee for even carryon luggage. If you don’t plan ahead and prepay for this “benefit” you could double the cost of your ticket if you pay at the counter. Traveling is stressful enough, and who wants to pay more for simply taking the necessities with you on a business trip, or a vacation for that matter? And I don’t need to go into the stories of passengers being bumped or forcibly removed from flights, stranded in airports, stuck on the tarmac in an uncomfortably warm or cold plane for hours, or standing in a long line (due to understaffed counters) to check luggage, only to be told when they get to the front that they missed the check-in time and will therefore miss their flight, without any compensation.
Southwest Airlines, co-founded by Herb Kelleher and under the leadership of CEO Gary Kelly since 2008, is abnormal not just in the aviation industry but in the world of business. Every employee is asked to live “the Southwest Way,” which is to have a Servant’s Heart, a Fun-LUVing Attitude, and a Warrior Spirit. The employees really do practice what the handbook preaches, as I’ve been on several trips where the flight attendants sing and celebrate customers’ birthdays and anniversaries, and the pilots still invite the kids to see the cockpit. Last week I even saw the captain assist an elderly customer into her wheelchair and he walked with her to the baggage claim. You never lose money or pay a penalty when cancelling or changing a flight, as you are provided with a credit to use towards another flight within 12 months.
Added bonus: they allow you to check two bags for free, AND you get to bring carryon luggage at no charge. This low-cost airline is one of the most profitable on Wall Street, and it doesn’t appear anyone else is close to catching up with them.
Something else that Southwest inherently understands and that is going to be tough to replicate is their hyper-focus on taking care of the customer. My hunch is hiring people who agree to live “the Southwest Way” is 90% of the reason this company is successful year after year, and why customers are fiercely loyal to the brand. Having a Servant’s Heart might seem easy when you’re on the clock and you’re getting paid to help passengers find their way to gates, clean up spilled drinks or find a way for a couple to sit together on a plane that has only single open seats in the very front and very back. But going above and beyond is second-nature to Southwest employees, and as I wrote this section for the book I was alerted to a trending story on Twitter:
“Southwest Airlines Employee Personally Delivers Luggage to Cancer Patient’s Home.” People, by Jason Duaine Hahn, August 11, 2017
The tweet linked to a story on People.com, and shows a photo of two lovely women, all smiles, one holding a bouquet of roses, standing in front of a Southwest counter. My initial thought is “Outstanding work by the PR team!”
As I read the story, my heartstrings are pulled. The passenger, Stacy Hurt, was flying to Pittsburgh from Nashville, for her chemotherapy treatment the next morning. Her original flight was rerouted and cancelled and her luggage was stuck in Nashville. The contents: medication that helped with chemo side effects, and of equal importance were the precious rosary and lucky t-shirt that helped with the emotional side effects of the cancer treatment she’d undergo for hours.
Sarah Rowan, the customer service agent who received the phone call late in the evening, wasn’t told she had to do anything. Normal protocol was to have a courier deliver the suitcase to the passenger the next day. But anyone with a Servant’s Heart would know that this wasn’t a normal situation. And when the luggage came in on the last flight, after 1:30 am and after the couriers were gone, the customer service agent (who by the way, is only 27, for any naysayers who assume millennials don’t want to work hard or go the extra mile) looked up the passenger’s address and, after her shift ended, drove 25 minutes to personally deliver the luggage to Stacy’s home. Arrival time: 3:30. In the morning.
Stacy awoke to find her suitcase on the porch, and was grateful for the courier who dropped it off. Upon opening the bag she found this note:
When was the last time someone at your company went out of the way, after clocking out, to do something remarkable for a customer?
Southwest Airlines is known for these types of stories that are shared on social networks on a daily basis. Very rarely does the story get covered by People.com, but they aren’t in it for the free publicity. They walk the walk, and provide a Soulful Experience in an industry that is known for consistently delivering below average customer service.
The Southwest Way is also defined by providing grants to help people create and sustain public places in communities, surprising travelers with free concerts on flights and in the terminals, and featuring the artwork of young patients at hospitals on the normally vanilla-white bulkheads.
Oh, I thought it was also worth mentioning this company with a quaint view on loving the customer – and treating their employees well – has a market cap of $33.6 Billion (2017) and ranks number eight on Fortune’s list of Most Admired Companies.
The main takeaway to share with your team: Focus on creating a unique, memorable experience that will ensure your brand stands out and gives customers a reason to do business with you.