Here's another one of my favorite CSI Season 1 guest interviews, from a terrific leader.
Customer Service The Southwest Way (Originally posted on November 2, 2006)
Colleen Barrett is President and Corporate Secretary for Southwest Airlines. As part of CSI's monthly guest series, Colleen was kind enough to answer some questions and offer her insights regarding customer service and its vital importance to the company. Southwest is not only popular among frequent travelers, but it's a favorite on Wall Street as well. To hear Colleen tell it, Southwest's commitment to providing excellent customer service is a big reason why.
CSI: Tell us what commitment to Customer Service means at Southwest?
CB: I have always said we’re in the Customer Service business; we just happen to fly airplanes. It’s a daily mantra around here that you must have a passion for serving others to be successful at Southwest. We call it living the Southwest Way; you have to have a Servant’s Heart, a Warrior Spirit, and a Fun-loving Attitude.
CSI: How does Southwest strive to deliver and maintain Customer Service at such a high level each and everyday?
CB: First, we attempt to underpromise and overdeliver on the Customer Experience. We want to woo travelers with our low fares and then keep them coming back because of the outstanding Customer Service delivery. Second, we pay attention to the smallest of details. It’s about relationships and the small things we can do for our Customers that we think make a big difference in our brand versus our competitors. We send birthday cards to our frequent flyers; we celebrate all the important milestones in our Employees’ lives; and we purposely set up our relationships to be more direct with our Customers than our competitors who often depend on travel agencies or third-party web sites to deliver their product.
CSI: How do you manage to stay in touch with your Customers’ expectations?
CB: There are many ways we can stay current on our Customers’ needs. One of them is our new corporate blog where we get new insights every day into our Customers’ psyches. We do market and Customer research; we send our frequent flyers quick online surveys; and we TALK to them when they are in our airports and on our planes. Our Employees know each of them is a marketer of our product, and that any ideas or suggestions they might get from a Customer can be sent right up the chain with little effort or red tape. We maintain a constant line of communication with our Customers, and we’re working to improve those channels each day.
CSI: Tell us about the challenges of meeting or exceeding Customer expectations when those expectations may differ greatly across the country.
CB: Southwest strives to match the “face” of each of the 63 communities we serve throughout the country. While at the core of each Employee is a special esprit de corps and a Servant’s Heart, he/she can easily match the demeanor, accent, and personality of the local clientele. When we expand into a new market, we have Employees who often transfer into that city from another location to helps start up the operation. But, we always have local hires as well, and they help acclimate us to the regional or geographical differences of our newest Customer base. At the bottom of it all is a commitment to making travel a “human” experience. A smile and a helping hand are universal.
CSI: How do you know that your commitment to Customer Service delivers a tangible return on investment?
CB: Each month, the U.S. Department of Transportation publishes statistics on the operating excellence of each air carrier. Southwest has consistently held the top position for the fewest Customer complaints of all airlines. That tells us that our attention to detail is not only attracting Customers, but it’s keeping them coming back to experience Southwest’s legendary Customer Service. That repeat business is what has helped keep Southwest consistently profitable for 33 years. That record financial performance is what helped Money magazine a few years ago name Southwest as the top-performing stock during a running 30-year period. That consistency and dependability in terms of serving the Customer has served Southwest well as it has grown to become the nation’s largest domestic carrier in terms of domestic passengers carried. Southwest has truly proven that you can be low cost, low fare, and HIGH value.
CSI: Thank you Colleen!