A timely lesson from Southwest Airlines. Do your employees see “The BIG Picture”, too?

Another company consistently in the news for providing great service, besides Amazon.com, is Southwest Airlines.

Their inspirational hero pilot story made headlines across the globe last week. The best service isn’t necessarily about getting a plane to depart on time or sticking to policy. In fact, it can mean making a decision to put one customer above others.

The pilot held back a plane with hundreds of passengers for twelve minutes – so that one passenger could make the flight. As Christopher Elliot, the consumer advocate and journalist who first broke this story wrote: “Twelve minutes may not sound like a lot to you or me, but every second counts when you’re an airline. Southwest can turn an entire plane around in about 20 minutes, so 12 minutes is half an eternity.”

In this instance, the pilot put one category – service mindset – above others in the four categories of value in “The BIG Picture”:

  • Primary product – transporting a passenger from one place to another, within a promised time window.
  • Delivery system – ticketing channels, the destinations and airports they serve, baggage services, the planes passengers fly on.
  • Service mindset – how passengers are served and treated by Southwest employees.
  • Ongoing relationship – engendering of relationships to encourage repeat travel on Southwest and gain customer loyalty.

The pilot delayed departure for twelve minutes – the primary product. He also delayed hundreds of passengers, potentially jeopardizing Southwest’s relationship with them and inviting demands for compensation.

However, the best service happens when you do something that truly matters for someone. The pilot’s demonstration of an outstanding service mindset has generated immense adoration, admiration and goodwill for him and Southwest Airlines.

I am not sure the pilot was analyzing the situation in the manner described above. Maybe he ‘went with his heart’. The point is, though, that organizations can ensure that all their employees are educated to make such decisions. Such examples of unbelievable service can also be used to teach other employees so they see fundamental service principles at work and learn how to apply them to their own jobs.

Too many companies rely on clichés such as:

  • ‘The customer is king’ (If that’s the case then the hundreds of passengers already on the plane should be ‘more important’ than the single one yet to get on.)
  • ‘Go the extra mile’ (For whom? And how do you do that?)
  • ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ (Different people value different things. And it’s not about you!)

It is time to do more. Equip your employees with a clear understanding of fundamental service principles. Help them see how to apply these principles in their own jobs every day. Create an uplifting culture that motivates your team members to excel in the service they provide to others. Make it safe for employees to ‘try new things’, to take new actions to create value for customers and for colleagues.

Southwest Airlines seized the opportunity to declare how “proud” they are of the pilot. Such public recognition of an employee who took a great risk by doing something ‘new’ is surely an inspiration to the rest of their employees as well. And to us all.