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Why is Southwest the Only Airline that "Gets It," asks Prominent Marketing Speaker | Marketing Wizard's Alliance

Why is Southwest the Only Airline that “Gets It,” asks Prominent Marketing Speaker

By Jim Ackerman · Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

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Flew to Denver the other day. Had a speaking gig addressing the Snowsports Industries of America “SnowShow.”

The speaking opportunity was reasonably gratifying, but the Denver part of the travel experience wasn’t.

I rented a car because it appeared on the surface that it would be cheaper than taking a shuttle into town. Little did I realize that the fees, taxes and surcharges imposed on car rentals by the airport, the city and the state are the highest in the nation. It almost doubled the cost of the 2-day rental. I kid you not. I paid over 50 bucks for a $14 per day rental. That’ll blow your mind.

So will showing up at your hotel only to find it will cost you an extra 26 bones to park your car overnight downtown.

All stuff that’s hard to know in advance, unless you’re really doing your homework.

On the upside, I had the best Polish sausage I’ve ever had in my life at the Denver Conference Center. Deee-lish!

The biggest upside was traveling Southwest Airlines. Why is it these guys seem to be the only airline on the continent that gets it.

I directed my travel agent to get me on Southwest first, anytime I need a flight, once Delta and her sisters started charging for bags. They charge for every single bag. Southwest gives you not one but two bags FREE. I call that “getting it.”

But they don’t stop there.

In every airport where Southwest has a presence, they have installed counters with stools, and comfy chair set-ups, equipped with plenty of power outlets and USB ports for passengers – they call us guests – to plug in our laptops and phones, charge up and make good use of their in-terminal wait times.

The impressive thing is it’s apparent this isn’t an afterthought or token accommodation. They’ve made a substantial – and I’m sure expensive – commitment to provide these free services to their guests.

As you look at these counters, you’ll notice that they have their hook-ups on both sides of the counters, to accommodate more customers.

Southwest has placed "Plug-in" Counters at each gate so passengers can conveniently access the internet and charge their devices.

Southwest has placed "Plug-in" Counters at each gate so passengers can conveniently access the internet and charge their devices.

I was so impressed to see this, I asked the gate agent if all Southwest locations have these, or is it just the bigger “hub” locations. She assured me that they have been installed at every Southwest station. I asked her if all airlines are doing this.

“Nope,” she said, “just us as far as I know.”

“How come you guys seem to be the only ones who get it?”

“Cause we’re the best,” she said, beaming.

Another side effect of “getting it.” Employees who like their employer, their job, and feel like they’re part of something special; part of a mission.

At a time when all the other airlines appear to be slashing both the quantity and quality of their service to the masses, this outfit is going the other direction.
Their people remain the best in the business. Always cheerful, always making you feel genuinely welcome. It’s been decades since I got that kind of vibe anywhere else.
You’ve heard about Southwest’s philosophy. They’ve been written up in all kinds of journals and publications. But the rep, it seems to me, is well earned. And they continue to earn it.

After several years scoring above all comers in on-time arrivals, they slipped a bit last year. Actually came in sixth. And while I haven’t been late arriving on a Southwest flight in longer than I can remember, I sense a commitment on the part of the Airline to get back to the top of the heap in this important passenger-satisfaction category. I arrived early on both legs of this particular trip.

The thing that remains absolutely puzzling to me is why the competition refuses to follow suit. Instead, they follow each other in the wrong direction. One airline decides to charge for luggage or squeeze another row of seats in at the expense of passenger comfort, the sheep follow. All but Southwest.

Isn’t it obvious to the competition that Southwest’s “tricks” are not only making them more popular, they’re also relatively easy to emulate?

What’s it take to improve on-time arrival rates, for example?

Easy. Pad your projected flight times. If the flight should take an hour, tell the passengers it will take an hour and 10 minutes. If it only takes the hour, you arrive 10 minutes early. If you have extra traffic on the ground or whatever, you’ve built-in an expectation and odds are you still arrive on time.

At the end of the day, a lot of what Southwest does is manage expectations, and deliver on those expectations. Why can’t all the airlines do that?

Wait, why can’t we all do that?

What are you doing to make sure you customer’s experience with you is similar to the experience Southwest Airlines customers have?

Are you managing their expectations?

Are you providing simple, inexpensive extras the competition doesn’t, or can’t provide?

Are your people empowered to make your customers happy?

Have you engineered systems within your enterprise to make sure that the customer’s experience is a happy one, every time?

It is incumbent on all businesses to do exactly that.

If you are a small business, this should be relatively easy. You can be flexible and agile.

Large businesses – often your competitors – have difficulty shifting directions in meaningful ways. You see, there really is a reason why Delta, American, United cannot easily emulate what Southwest does. They have thousands of employees whose expectations have been set by default. They expect to be treated a certain way. They feel entitled to certain conditions and benefits and procedures. They don’t like or want change, and frankly, they don’t “get” the kinds of changes that would make them more inclined to like their job or their company, and therefore they are not likely to “give more” to their customers.

You see it in other institutions as well. It’s almost impossible for huge companies like big utilities, banks, manufacturers, school systems and governments to shift their cultures.

I said ALMOST. It can be done, but it takes a level of commitment from top executives and boards that few companies ever adopt.

That’s why the best way to foster a Southwest kind of corporate culture is to build it when you’re still small. Make it a part of your company while you’re still young, and it will make all the difference in the world.

THE END

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jim Ackerman is a Salt Lake City-based Marketing Speaker, Marketing Coach, author and ad writer.  Or call 800.584.7585 for more information.

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