Southwest Airlines shows what being ‘customer-centric’ means

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For most of my regular travels I could fly on Spirit, Frontier, United or others. But, whenever possible I opt for Southwest. Guess you could call me a loyal Southwest customer, albeit the airfare often isn’t the cheapest.

So why would I pay more (sometimes) for Southwest? Bags fly free? No charge to pick a seat? Smooth boarding process? No hassles? Sure, these may all factor in. But I’ve come to realize there’s even more to favoring Southwest with my business. And there may be a solid lesson for boat dealers in it all.

A recent blog post by Vivek Jaiswal, co-founder of Customer Guru, a consulting firm that helps clients become customer-centric, made me recognize why I’m a regular customer on Southwest. Simply put, it’s their business model.

In his blog “World’s Three Most Customer-Centric Companies: How Do They Do It?” Jaiswal names Southwest, founded in 1967 by industry legend Herb Kelleher. It started with a mission statement that became a companywide culture. It reads: “Dedication to highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride and company spirit.”

Pretty lofty, I’d say, but lofty statements don’t ensure loyal customers or company profits. It’s notable that when most airlines were bleeding losses, Southwest remained profitable.

The loyal customer base has resulted from Southwest meeting its goal of making every flight an enjoyable experience. Says Jaiswal: “Everything about the brand, from the napkins that say ‘I’d be happy to hold your drink’ to its stock market ticker ‘LUV’, talks about the customer-loving brand that it is.”

For example, how about the flight attendant on the speaker after a rather hard landing saying: “I’m guessing the captain won’t be writing home about his soft landing today!”

Here are three more revelations Jaiswal offers about Southwest’s success that boat dealers might ponder. After all, aren’t we also creating an experience when we’re selling our boats and supporting our customers?

  1. Happy employees equal happier customers. Keeping employees first and happy is a cornerstone of Southwest’s success. Kelleher prioritized: “Our people are our single greatest strength and most enduring long-term competitive advantage.” Southwest empowers its front-line employees and always backs them to make quick decisions that are critical for a good customer experience. Perhaps that’s why employees stayed with the airline even when they were paid less, compared with other airlines.
  2. Always attempt to anticipate a customer’s needs. Jaiswal cites Micah Solomon’s book, “High Tech, High Touch Customer Service,” in which he describes his experience when a Southwest gate agent booked his tickets to the next flight to his destination when the one he was supposed to fly was grounded elsewhere by bad weather. The agent did this before Solomon even requested it. Being proactive in meeting customer needs always leads to a memorable moment of pleasant experience for the customer.
  3. Act when an apology is in order. It’s never wrong or ill-timed to offer a genuine apology when things go wrong on your end. Sometimes just an apology goes a longer way to keeping that customer’s loyalty than any monetary solution. An apology by a sincere team member is the mantra that Southwest lives by.

YouTube is filled with videos about Southwest and its customer-centric culture. Here’s just one that makes the point: 

Think about this: I’ll bet I’m correct when I say you founded your dealership with the idea of adding value to the lives of your customers by offering good products at fair prices, backed by the best service. If adding value to the customer is the priority, and the customer is at the heart of the business, why do some companies top the scale at being customer-centric while others fail to move the needle?

Where would your dealership fall on the scale?

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