Southwest Delivers an Enlightened Customer Experience

Last week I had my first Southwest experience. For those that have never flown Southwest Airlines, the typical response might be “WHAT?” For those that are devoted Southwest flyers, the response was probably “did you take pictures?”

Being an entrepreneur with a commitment to client experience and Raving Fan Service, I was quite familiar with Southwest having read numerous books and articles on the airline and their famed culture and studied. I even spent 3 hours at a bar in Chicago with former Chairman and Founder Herb Kelleher sipping Wild Turkey and Water while discussing business.

Being a Charlestonian (Southwest doesn’t fly into Charleston, SC), I am a Delta man, if only by default. My virgin Southwest experience would be a direct flight from Baltimore (BWI) to Orlando (MCO).

As I approached the Southwest gate at the airport, I was enthusiastically greeted by the gate agent. We chatted for a few minutes. She discovered I was from South Carolina, and we spent at least a minute or two debating the perfect recipe for Beaufort Boil (there were no passengers behind me in line). After exhausting our culinary debate, I inquired if a business plus seat would be available for an additional fee. A business plus seat would enable me priority boarding so I could snag an exit row seat for my extra long legs. She responded “Good news Mr. Witty, the flight is not sold out. There will be plenty of extra seats in the back where you can spread out without having to pay an extra.” WOW! I teed up an up sell opportunity for her and she denied it. Two lessons became obvious. #1 Southwest people enjoy what they do (this can hardly be said of most other airlines) and #2 the employee made a recommendation that was in the best interest of the customer not the best interest of the company. Perhaps some employers would shirk at this thought. I have a feeling Southwest doesn’t. When you look out for the customer, the customer will ultimately look out for you (in terms of loyalty).

I boarded the plane and before I knew it we were in the air. The stewards began their in-cabin beverage and food service. I must have been asked at least 5 times if they could get me anything else. Every time with a sincere smile. I could only help but sincerely smile back. As we were preparing to land, I stowed my laptop computer and browsed the seat-pocket magazine, Spirit! I almost fell out of my seat when I read that Southwest was offering all passengers a complimentary cocktail on Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day. WHAT!?! US Airways is now charging $2 for just a Coke and Southwest is offering all passengers a complimentary cocktail? Are you kidding? #3 Southwest values and encourages fun and fun creates smiles (and happy passengers).

The 4th and final lesson became clear only after I submitted my expense report. My Southwest flight from Baltimore to Orlando (700+ miles) was $79. My taxi ride from the Orlando Airport to my hotel (20 miles) was $55. #4 Over-deliver value and the customer will keep coming back.

Incorporate these simple rules into your business and you will experience some Southwest magic too. Oh yea, my 2nd flight is already booked.