As part of a new series, I’m introducing today’s leadership concept via a segment extracted from my latest book, Lead with LUV, coauthored by former Southwest Airlines president Colleen Barrett.
The Customer is King
I’ve said for many years that profit is the applause you get for taking care of your customers and creating a motivating environment for your people. No organization has lived and breathed that lesson better than Southwest Airlines. Read on for a great example of how Southwest creates Raving Fan customers by taking care of them like nobody else does.
Ken: These days, nobody has to convince anybody that the customer reigns. People are realizing that their organizations will go nowhere without the loyalty and commitment of their customers. Companies are motivated to change when they discover the new rule: Today, if you don’t take great care of your customers, somebody else will.
Colleen: That’s for sure! So great customer service has to be top of mind for all of your people. We emphasize that all the time. I love the way you and Sheldon Bowles challenged us all to create Raving Fans®, not simply satisfied customers.
Ken: We think enthusiastic Raving Fan customers make your business into a great business. Today you can’t be content to simply satisfy customers. Raving Fan customers are customers who are so excited about the way you treat them that they want to brag about you—they become part of your sales force. Let me give you a simple yet powerful example of this, from an experience I had personally with Southwest Airlines.
What usually happens when you call most airlines to either make or change a reservation? You get a recording that says, “All of our agents are busy right now, but your business is very important to us, so please stay on the line and we will be with you as soon as possible.” Then the music starts. You could be on hold for who knows how long, sitting and waiting to talk to a human being.
Recently, I called Southwest to change a reservation. Normally at Southwest, a human being picks up the phone. This time, a recording said, “I’m sorry, our Customer Service Agents are all busy right now; but at the beep, please leave your name and telephone number and we will call you back within ten minutes.” So that’s what I did. What do you think happened a few minutes later? My cell phone rang, and this pleasant voice said, “Is this Ken Blanchard?”
I said, “Yes.”
“Ken, this is Bob from Southwest Airlines. How may I help you?”
Colleen, I’ve never had that experience with any other airline. How did you make that happen?
Colleen: That’s a feature that’s available to all airlines. It’s called virtual queuing. It helps us handle our heaviest calling times without lowering our Customer Service standard.
Ken: Why would Southwest use such a feature, and no other airline seems to be doing it?
Colleen: I don’t know. But we’re always looking for service capabilities that far exceed those of the competition, and that even exceed customer expectations. Being called back by an airline? It was beyond most customers’ belief. Yet we routinely try to do the unexpected, and can then enjoy the growth and good reputation generated by customers like you, Ken, who have spontaneously joined our sales force by bragging about us.
If you think it’s too much trouble to go the extra mile for your customers, think again. It’s just common sense: Treat your customers unexpectedly well and they’ll be so delighted they will come back again and again, tell their friends, and your organization will reap the benefits. Do you have any great customer service stories that have become legendary around your organization? If not, you might want to stop and think about it.