Last year, Southwest Airlines was ranked in the Top Ten Most Admired Companies in America by Fortune Magazine. I wasn’t surprised.
I’ve always liked their service, their low fares, and their light-hearted way of entertaining customers during flights. We’re all familiar with the often-ignored, always-boring, “airplane safety seminar” that takes place at the start of every flight on airlines other than Southwest: “Ladies & gentlemen, please follow along on the safety card...there are eight exits in this Boeing 737...blah, blah, blah.”
With Southwest, you’re likely to hear this speech start off with, “Ladies and gentlemen, there may be fifty ways to leave your lover but if we have a problem, there are only eight ways off this plane– so listen up.”
This light-hearted approach has earned Southwest the reputation of being the “FUN” airline.
But, my good feelings about them go back several years to a customer service workshop I presented for their reservations agents.
I flew to their headquarters at Love Field in Dallas the night before the event on a Southwest flight. Upon arrival (which was delayed until 2:00 AM because of weather) I discovered my luggage had not arrived with me. In a bleary-eyed state of sleep deprivation, I informed the Southwest baggage office about the problem and after a heartfelt apology from the agent, was assured that the errant bag would come in later that morning, around 8:00 AM.
The agent told me that the day-shift personnel would make sure the bag was delivered to my hotel - at Southwest’s expense.
“Ok,” I said, “But it’s really important that I get it in the morning because I’m giving a presentation tomorrow afternoon. I’ll need something to wear besides the cut-offs and flip-flops I’ve got on.” (I didn’t tell her that the presentation was for their own reservations staff at Southwest’s University for People. It’s located right there at the terminal.) As far as she knew, I was just another passenger with a lost bag.)
“No problem,” I was told.
Worried about my bag arriving on time, I awoke after just five hours of sleep. I called the Southwest baggage office to get an update and spoke to Baggage Agent Ray Stump (the day-shift guy), who said, “Oh, yes, Mr. Johnson, your bag just arrived from Albuquerque.
Since I needed it by 11:00 AM, I asked him when I could expect it.
Ray said the delivery service that usually brings the bags was backed up and wouldn’t be able to get it to me by then. Then he added, “No problem though, I’ll bring it out to your hotel myself and give it to the concierge.”
I told him thanks for his willingness to go the extra mile, hung up, and went back to bed for another couple of hours of much-needed sleep.
When I awoke, I checked with the concierge, who said no luggage had been delivered for me. Panicked, I called Ray back, who assured me that he had delivered the bag to the concierge at my hotel an hour earlier. He then told me not to worry – that he, Ray Stump, would call the concierge himself to get the problem straightened out. Five minutes later, the concierge called, in a panic, to tell me that the bag had been found. (I don’t know what Ray threatened him with, but it worked.)
Hooray for Ray Stump! Southwest calls this Positively Outrageous Service.
But the story doesn’t end there. Later that day, as I was walking down the concourse at the Southwest Terminal at Love Field with my bag in tow, I heard someone call out, “Hey, Mr. Johnson.”
I turned to see a young man in a Southwest uniform who introduced himself as “Ray, the baggage guy.”
After thanking him again for his extra special effort, I asked how he knew who I was. (We had never met face to face.)
He smiled and said, “I recognized your bag.”
“WOW!” I thought, “You need a life, man.”
Seriously, though, don’t you wish there were more Ray Stumps in the world? And wouldn’t you love to have nothing but Ray Stumps working for you?
So how does Southwest do it?
According to Southwest Manager of Training Development at the time, Kay Caldwell, it’s a combination of:
• Selecting the best people possible – Southwest employs a rigorous process of screening job applicants.
• Offering Southwest employees’ excellent benefits and salary package.
• Making them owners - Southwest was one of the first airlines to offer profit sharing as part of the benefits package, along with options for employees to participate in a stock purchase plan.
• Giving them superb training.
• Treating them like they are the most valuable asset Southwest has.
The event at which I spoke is a good example. In addition to the required job-skills training that all reservations employees must complete to do their jobs, Southwest puts on a two-day training extravaganza annually for more than 1000 of them. During the event, they are wined, dined, and given the opportunity to attend seminars that develop not only their work-related skills but also their skills for living their lives more effectively.
Kay told me that the purpose of the event is three-fold:
1. To enhance the ability of their reservations team to do a better job by acquiring improved skills.
2. To let employees know how much Southwest appreciates the great job they do.
3. To give the reservations employees a learning opportunity in a FUN atmosphere away from their daily responsibilities. Things they learn at the conference are for self-development. It is information they can take back to the job and apply it with their families.
It sounds like Southwest not only believes in giving Positively Outrageous Service to its customers, they also believe in giving Positively Outrageous Service to its employees. No wonder they are known as the FUN airline. And no wonder they get ranked in the Top Ten Most Admired Companies by Fortune Magazine.
To book Larry Johnson for your next event, visit his profile: https://premierespeakers.com/larry_johnson
Johnson is the author of Generations, Inc.: From Boomers to Linksters - Managing the Friction Between Generations at Work and Absolute Honesty: Building a Corporate Culture That Values Straight Talk and Rewards Integrity. To order copies in bulk for your event, please visit Bulkbooks.com.