Best Practices in Client Experience Strategy: Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines is a success story that is built on their belief – “in the customer service business – it just happens to fly airplanes.”  The company uses its carefully selected and trained employees as its greatest tool to meet its high level of customer service.

In “How Southwest Airlines Became a Model for Customer Loyalty,” Susan J. Campbell differentiates Southwest Airlines from its competitors based on how the company hires employees.  Employees are selected to join the Southwest team by their attitude and not by their work experience.  With people that have the right attitude, Southwest Airlines could then train them to service customers the Southwest way.  Trained employees are counted on to make the right decision representing Southwest Airlines.

Southwest employees are not only trained to do their specific jobs, but they are motivated in the engagement of the overall mission of the company.  In The Southwest Airlines Way by Jody Hoffer Gittell, she explores Southwest Airlines’ focus in empowering their employees by shared goals, shared knowledge, and mutual respect. 

  • Shared Goals – The desire to meet excellent customer service, safety, and on-time performance drive the whole team at every level.  It is very beneficial all employees know how their jobs contribute to Southwest Airlines overall goals.  Even when issues arise, they will be motivated to work on problem solving to realign towards the primary goals.
  • Shared Knowledge – The understanding of the links between the different functions also helps employees see the big picture of how Southwest Airlines work.  Employees that have this shared knowledge about their company tend to know the importance of their jobs.  When there is an emotional tie, employees are much more committed to the success of their company.  Southwest Airlines have proved that shared knowledge is an important factor in creating and maintaining their dedicated workforce.
  • Mutual Respect – The atmosphere at Southwest Airlines encourages interaction amongst its team at every level.  According to Gittell, a Southwest customer service agent said, “No one takes the job of another person for granted.  The skycap is just as critical as the pilot.  You can always count on the next guy standing there.  No one department is any more important than another.”  For job fulfillment, it is crucial that an employee feels respected working at his position.  Respect is a big part in the happiness of employees. 

So, how does Southwest Airlines set an example for the banks and credit unions?  The branch and call center representatives are the vessels in delivering their customer service.  These simple principles that Southwest Airlines follow to establish a happy and dedicated workforce can be carried into the hiring and training processes of banking representatives.  If representatives are trained to be empowered to do the right thing, the representatives will resolve customer issues that come up in a way that fit their bank’s culture best.  Therefore, banks should hire well, incorporate goals and knowledge of the company in training, and create an environment that encourages the team to respect each other no matter what role each person plays; these are the straightforward ways of Southwest Airlines that is by no means limited to the airline environment.

References:

How Southwest Airlines Became a Model for Customer Loyalty” by Susan J. Campbell, TMCnet Contributing Editor

Southwest Airlines’ Seven Secrets for Success” by Joe Brancatelli, Portfolio.com

The Southwest Airlines Way by Jody Hoffer Gittell

Do the Right Thing by James F. Parker