Written by John LaPlant
Recently, Herb Kelleher passed away. He was a co-founder of Southwest Airlines. He was a negotiator, a maverick, and mission focused. He was quoted as saying, “The business of business is PEOPLE.” As the story goes, the Southwest finance guys, the “Bean Counters,” came into Herb’s office one day and said, “Herb, we have a cash position issue; it is not going away so you have a decision to make. Layoff a good number of employees or sell one of your airplanes!” Herb said, “Sell an airplane.”
The bean counters countered saying it would be better to eliminate people because airplanes produced revenue. Herb said, “Sell the airplane. People produce revenue.” This conviction and unaltered mind-set reaffirm the saying, “Happy employees make happy customers.”
Southwest Airlines was always a fun place to work…the decorated gates, the hilarious stories and jokes, the costumes, both the business traveler and non-business traveler loved it. It was the culture – a culture that pulled customers in like a gravitational effect.
Herb Kelleher recognized the power of the employee – both positive and negative. His job was to build the positive and minimize or eliminate the negative.
Clearly, the number one responsibility of business is PEOPLE DEVELOPMENT. It makes no difference if the business is transportation, education, health care, agricultural, heating, air conditioning, plumbing, banking, retail, or service, the driving force of success is people development. Build their skills, build their character, build and reinforce their values, and build the atmosphere that fosters individual and team growth and success. And do it every day.
Obviously, it takes goals, processes, and controls, but, also a crystal-clear culture identity…A definition of behaviors and actions that are acceptable and those that are not tolerated for any reason by anyone in the company at any level. The company culture becomes the gyroscopic course setter, the company moral compass if you will, for just “doing the right thing.”
Once in a while, Vicki and I fly Southwest Airlines. It’s always an excellent travel experience. No one is grumpy, whining, or in-your-face. I recently observed this customer service event. As we de-planed, I saw an elderly lady with a boarding pass in hand who looked very concerned and confused. An airport employee stopped, chatted, pointed down the concourse, and left. This lady did not take a step…still frozen in confusion.
Then one of the flight attendants on our Southwest flight came out. I overheard her say it was a long flight day, and she just wanted to get home and relax. She saw the lady, stopped, chatted, took her arm, while still pulling her own case, and started down the concourse. We followed. She personally escorted this elderly woman to her gate. She waited and walked her on the plane. Now that is a huge value difference from pointing.
Pointing is the easy way out if no value consideration is given to customer service. What difference does it make? This level of service from the flight attendant gets talked about, put on social media, AND SELLS TICKETS…it puts butts in seats. And, Herb Kelleher knew that as an operating fact. The flight attendant did not have to do it, but it was the right thing to do. PERIOD! It is the culture of engagement, execution, and not worrying that management will get upset. It was Southwest Airlines run by Herb Kelleher.
I read about another stellar customer service experience from a CSR at a HVAC company. The company changed out a system for a customer where some upgrades to breakers and wiring at the panel were made. The utility required an inspection to clear the job to turn on power from the transformer. This utility had only one active inspector. There was a bad storm and the inspector could not get out to inspect the job for four days. Or, so he said.
The customer called the HVAC company and this CSR relayed the story. She was desperate and frazzled. She had a family member with severe health issues and needed air conditioning. This CSR jumped into action…FULL THROTTLE and NO EXCUSES. She called the utility and called the inspector…to no avail…no action from them. She called again and pleaded for action on behalf of this client in need. Again, no action is taken.
Undaunted, she got in her car and tracked down the inspector. Really gave him no options except DO THE RIGHT THING, do the inspection. She even followed him to the job which was an hour drive and comforted the customer. Ultimately, the power was back on that same day. The CSR did not have to do this. But what needed to be done was clear to her. It was her training; it was the culture of the company with no fear of retribution from management. In addition, the utility called the CSR and said, “Young lady, you taught us an important lesson about customer service today. We will be much more responsive in the future. That is a promise!”
Wow, two amazing stories. Two amazing professionals. Two amazing folks that are proud of what they do and self-confident enough to push the envelope of results. Results that get talked about and yes, will generate revenue. Maybe not today, but eventually….guaranteed. But, revenue is not the reason these women took control of the situation when no one else did…..it was just the RIGHT THING TO DO in a picture-perfect way. The Herb Kelleher WAY!!! We have observed an organizational “WHY.” Individuals who have absorbed a purpose, a servant conscience, a higher commitment to make a life difference for the better.
Now the question becomes, “Will your company have a legacy of astonishing customer service through great Leadership…Will YOU”??? Clearly, it is not enough to just “show up” at 8:00 a.m. Success requires engagement, attitude, perseverance, and constant attention to making a difference.
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