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What do customers want most?

I boarded my Southwest Airlines flight at Detroit Metro Airport, buckled up in a window seat and pulled out the magazine from the seat pocket in front of me. My eyes were drawn to a greeting page from Southwest chairman and CEO Gary C. Kelly entitled “Back to Basics.”

Now I must say I would normally flip right past such a page. But the title stopped me, his message resonated and I found myself gazing out the window wondering how many dealers really know what their customers most want. Here’s part of what Kelly said:

“I’ve been at Southwest for almost 30 years and I can’t believe the amount of change I’ve witnessed. But our original idea is as relevant today as it was all those years ago (Southwest first took off in 1971) and we’re staying focused on the basics of serving others.”

First, Kelly’s comment about staying focused on the basics of serving others reverberated. How often, I thought as I watched the ground crew loading luggage below me, do we get so caught up in this new idea or that latest business fad that we lose focus of the basic reason to be in the boat business — to serve customers?

Then, Kelly said what really hit me: “We’ve never tried to be all things to all people, but we aim to be the very best at what our customers tell us matters most to them.” Now there’s an idea worth emulating.

At Southwest, Kelly says the customers want low fares without hidden fees, convenient schedules, friendly service and to arrive on time with their bag. Those are the basics and reliably delivering on these customer expectations is the airline’s focus.

As we climbed to cruising altitude, I wondered how many dealers actually know what customers want most, make those the basics tenants of the operation and consistently remind all members of the team to keep focused on them.

On the other hand, I wondered how many dealers have never actually attempted to find out what their customers want most — the key things they value most highly about the dealership.

As we move into the three months (April, May June) that traditionally account for the largest boat sales volume of the year, it’s an opportune time to learn in what specific way customers value the dealership most. Then, in much the same way Southwest has determined its basic focus, a dealer can lay down the basics.

Oh, yes, and as an added kicker to the importance of knowing and keeping focus on the basics, in Southwest’s case it is among the most profitable airlines in the industry.

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