I was so excited when I read today’s issue of Forbes that I had to write this post immediately. How often do we find articles that make us want to jump out of our seats and take action? Not every day…and this is one of those times.
The article? Customer Service: What Southwest Knows And You Don’t (Hint: Being Nice Isn’t Enough), by Micah Solomon.
What’s got me so pumped up? It’s this: What appears to be a story about customer service is actually much more than that. It’s an example of how leaders in any business can set the stage for successful delivery of their value proposition, whatever that value proposition may be.
Here’s the story: Customer Service has been an area of differentiation for Southwest, as an integral part of the customer experience the airline promises. On one winter’s day, light snow caused a delay in Philadelphia that made Micah’s Southwest flight arrive too late to make his connection to Denver. He anticipated being forced to wait in a long line to rebook his flight to Denver and was already starting to be annoyed when he was greeted by a courteous Southwest gate agent who asked him his name. He told her, and she handed him a boarding pass for the next available flight to Denver.
As Micah’s article stated, “The reason Southwest was able to pull this off wasn’t that an empathetic gate agent spontaneously decided to print out these boarding passes. It happened because empathetic people working at Southwest realized that 99+% of the people on the late-arriving plane would want to be rebooked on the next flight out of there. And they therefore designed the process to make this happen, without a single passenger even needing to make a request.”
Hiring good people who anticipate customer needs before the customer expresses those needs is an important step. Communicating your strategy of differentiation through customer service is also highly important. Setting up the systems and procedures your good people use, to make things happen, is key (I admit, I had to fight the urge to say it is priceless.) For, without aligned systems and procedures, employees would have to work around existing procedures in order to make those things happen — which may be possible but creates stress for employees and adds to operating cost by requiring employees to take time for unplanned activities. Southwest’s hiring of good people and aligning both the people and the organizational systems with the strategy enabled them to deliver their promise of customer service that anticipates and meets customers’ needs — as part of their standard way of doing things.
In some of our other posts, we talk about alignment. Alignment of people, tasks, priorities, procedures, policies, metrics…the entire value chain. What excites me about this story of customer service is that it provides a strong, simple real-life example of how a business has effectively aligned its people, processes and priorities with their value proposition. It takes a complex idea and makes it simple, and it provides an example that will help other leaders to drive performance up throughout their organizations.
Today’s Challenge Question: Think about a key differentiating factor for your organization. How well aligned with this factor are your people and the hiring processes, organizational systems, procedures, employee training, and metrics? What are the implications for the business?