One year Southwest was challenged by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to change its funny on board announcements as they felt people were not taking the safety messages seriously. Southwest argued back that to the contrary, it felt that because it infused humor into the typically rote, boring announcements, that people listened more. The FAA finally agreed and dropped the issue.
Southwest created a dollar bill with Herb Kelleher’s (CEO of Southwest) picture in the center and sent these Herb Bucks to its most frequent fliers, asking that if they saw a Southwest Employee going above and beyond the expected service, they give them an Herb Buck. At the end of the program the Employees would be able to purchase items from a catalog with the Herb Bucks.
The program was so popular that within weeks Southwest’s Customers were calling asking for more Herb Bucks. They were having a great time, and it was a great way to tie Customers to employee recognition program. Customers often were featured in Southwest onboard magazine, “Spirit,” such as the lady who attended law school in Lubbock and flew back and forth twice a week on Southwest to attend class. Southwest also featured Chuy’s Restaurant when it announced that they only opened new restaurants in cities served by Southwest due to Southwest’s low fares.
To remind it to consider the Customer, Southwest created the committees to review operational failures. The rule of thumb was the employees have to ask themselves “if my Mom had been on board, would I be happy with the way she was treated?” Southwest keeps an empty chair in marketing meetings to remind itself to consider the Customer.
Frequently, Employees were given $25 coupons and asked to recognize any Customer doing something nice. One scenario often repeated was a young mother and child boarding late. Because they were the last to board, many times there were no seats together.
The flight attendant would make an announcement asking if any passenger would be willing to move so the mother and child could sit together. Somebody always volunteered. The flight attendant would then seek them out during the flight and thank them for their kind deed by giving them a $25 coupon good towards their next flight. They were always pleasantly surprised.
For many years employees of Southwest got their paychecks with the message “Provided by our Customers” to remind the employees of the Customers’ importance. Anytime the words Customer or Employee were written, they were always capitalized to stress the importance of both.
These Customer service principles are generic enough that most companies can implement them. It’s not rocket science, rather its common sense. The Golden Rule…putting yourself in others shoes, being nice…seemingly simple concepts that smart companies like Southwest realize keeps them at the top of their game.