Back in its early days Southwest Airlines was just another small business struggling to make a name for itself in a market full of much bigger and better known competitors. To be successful it had to use outrageous behaviors to help it gain a competitive edge. In those days one of its biggest competitors was Braniff International Airways. In Dallas, Braniff installed change machines near its gates that only gave you $.95 in change when you fed them a dollar bill. Southwest immediately installed change machines that gave you $1.05 back for every dollar you fed in it. Then they sent out a few news releases. Kaboom! Southwest gained lots of free publicity at a time when it needed it the most, AND endeared itself to customers and prospective customers. Braniff, on the other hand, well, Braniff declared bankruptcy and went out of business some time later.
When you´re a small business fighting against larger competitors, don´t be afraid to think outside the box, especially in marketing. Notice also that this incident could only have a positive impact on their customers´ loyalty to Southwest. I don´t know for sure, but I´m betting some SW employee, or perhaps even a customer, came up with the idea. Wherever the idea came from, be sure you encourage outrageous ideas like that from your employees and customers. Then don’t be afraid to implement them.
Although second in number of passengers flown, Southwest had the lowest number of customer complaints in the September Air Travel Consumer Report (Thank you Warren at Greshes Sales Advice.) From day one, SW has incorporated “outrageous” customer service into its corporate DNA. (Notice in the quote below, how the word “Customer” has an upper case “C”? That’s SOP at SW.) How much time, stress, and money do you think they have saved by focusing on exceeding their customers’ expectations? I believe this is a key factor in their being the most profitable domestic airline.
If you´ve flown with them you know that frequently their flight crews make it fun to be onboard. Whether its humorous announcements or presenting newlyweds with a bottle of wine, they like to create fun for their customers and themselves. How can you apply that to your business?
They call it Positively Outrageous Customer Service. What will you call your customer service philosophy?
Southwest Airlines has two Customer types–external and internal. Passengers pay our way–they are external Customers. Employees are internal Customers. As C.E.O., I must endeavor to satisfy both. Dissatisfied internal Customers generally care little if they provide satisfactory service. Ergo, all Customers eventually become unhappy.
—Herb D. Kelleher, former CEO as quoted in The Customer Is Always Right!