Books have been written about Southwest Airlines and its profitability. Training sessions have been developed about its customer service standards. Speeches have been made about its happy employees.
Southwest Airlines rocks. If I have a choice to fly on any airline, you should choose Southwest for several reasons. In most cases, Southwest is less expensive than the other options. The flights are typically on time or early. Luggage doesn’t get lost. The separate terminals or airports for Southwest planes run smoother than other airlines.
The most important reason to fly Southwest Airlines, however, is its happy employees. It thrills me when I witness employees of any company operate with a smile. All Southwest employees do. Happiness and helpfulness are contagious.
There is no better place to write a piece about Southwest Airlines than sitting in the middle seat of row 10 of a Southwest Airlines 737. I’m flying at 35,000 feet in a steel craft and seated between a very nice but quite older couple.
Below are two examples of great customer service provided by energetic and happy employees of the airline. Both of these stories occurred on this trip so they are fresh in my mind. I’ll tell people about these stories for years to come and now it will go down into perpetuity because of this post.
Example 1 – Happy employees loves their jobs
It was 8:00 Sunday morning as I boarded a plane in St. Louis bound for Boston. I was going to a conference where the firm was exhibiting and I was one of the speakers. I’d never been to Boston so I was excited to go.
But it was 8:00 on a Sunday morning. Instead of being in the airport for the last hour drinking coffee from Dunkin Doughnuts (the coffee was good though), I wanted to be home helping get the girls ready to go to church services. Sundays are typically the only day of the week I get to help with that responsibility.
Oh yeah, this particular Sunday morning also happened to be Father’s Day. Nothing better for a Father’s Day gift than to not see your children (please note the sarcasm here). Oh well. I’m a positive person so I was going to make the best of it.
Getting checked in and making it through security was a breeze. I got to the airport early and was able to relax. When it was finally time to board, I waited for seating Group C to be called. I was the fifth from last person to get on the plane so I knew I wasn’t getting an aisle or window seat. That was okay. The 737 actually has a decent amount of leg and elbow room from a middle seat position.
I found a seat toward the front of the plane. If you know you’re getting a middle seat, why walk to the back of the plane hoping for an open aisle seat. Just pick the first one and sit. So I did.
The crew was collectively in a great mood for so early on a Sunday.
As soon as the lead crew member, we’ll call him Tom, started going through the announcements, I knew we were in for a treat. Southwest Airlines gives its employees the latitude to “spice up” the normally boring announcements about safety and the other rules. From flying as much as I do, I do not typically pay attention to the announcements. They all sound the same. Tom’s announcements were special. It’s probably because he is one of the happy employees.
To begin, he got everyone’s attention by saying we had a very special guest on board the plane. She typically does not fly commercially but chose to today and we were very lucky. She boarded via the back entrance of the plane so she wouldn’t cause a commotion. We were even luckier because she agreed to sign autographs during the flight. Then Tom told everyone to turn to the back of the plane and say “good morning to Oprah.” Every head in the plane (except mine because I knew what he was doing) turned in unison to see this celebrity.
“Now that I have your attention,” he said, “watch Michelle and she will show you how to fasten your seat belts.” Michelle, one of the stewardesses, was standing in the back waiving.
Tom continued with the jokes for the remainder of the announcements. At the end, he received a steady and loud round of applause from all the passengers. How frequently does the entire passenger group applaud the flight crew? I’ve never seen it before.
That feeling of levity continued throughout the flight as drinks and snacks were served. It was the most enjoyable flight I’ve ever had. It was all because of Tom and his crew are happy employees.
Example 2 – Rain Delay Work-around
While giving my talk on the last day of the Boston conference, I heard the heavy rains and thunder. It didn’t distract me from focusing on my audience and the topic at hand but I did wonder about whether my flight would leave on time.
My associate and I had planned our flight to give us ample time to get to the airport. We didn’t want Boston traffic to keep us from making our flight or having to rush. Traveling can be stressful enough. Proper planning can help reduce that.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn’t care about our plans. She wasn’t cooperating. When I turned my phone on after my talk was over, I had a voicemail from Southwest Airlines stating our flight was delayed by 40 minutes. We only had a scheduled 35 minute layover for our connecting flight so that meant that if our connecting plane was on time we would miss it.
What do I do when traveling plans run amuck? Nothing. I go with the flow. Things always work themselves out. Instead of worrying about missing a flight, we resorted to talking through our options with the ticket agents from the airline.
My traveling companion and I were at separate kiosks with separate Southwest Airlines personnel. When I told the woman with whom I was working that I think we would miss our connection, she went to talk with her associate who was helping my co-worker.
They coordinated a plan for us with input from us. We had another conference to be at the next morning so not getting to our destination that evening was not an option. Fortunately, we were flying back through St. Louis where I live so as long as we could get to St. Louis, I could get my car and we could drive to our final destination. Although not ideal, a four-hour drive would have been better than a flight cancellation and another night in rainy Boston.
The Southwest agents put us both on priority standby for a soon-to-be-departing direct flight. If we could get on that flight, we would make it to our destination two and a half hours before our original arrival time. If all the scheduled passengers were on that flight and we had to take our original flight, we would hope for the best to make our connection but drive the remainder if we had to.
During this whole consultation with the two ticket agents, the line behind us continued to grow. I felt bad for those passengers but the other ticket agents were helping them as quickly as possible. The process took probably 15 minutes and we thanked both agents for their patience and assistance. One of the agents thanked us for thanking her. She felt appreciated because we expressed our appreciation. That is good customer service provided by happy employees.
It was a good plan. As usual, good planning gets good results. Because of the storms, some of the passengers who were supposed to be on the earlier flight did not make their connections. It was unfortunate for them but fortunate for us. We got on that flight and made it to the conference earlier than planned.
Do your customers talk about you like this? I hope they do. I hope you provide all-star service with a genuine smile to your clients. I try but I’m not naive enough to think I do all I can. Every time I witness great examples of happy employees and customer service, I resort to do better myself.
Southwest Airlines is intentional about its purpose. Its employees buy in to the culture of happiness. Therefore, it enjoys success.