Column: Lessons from Southwest

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Commentary by George Klein

I’ve flown several different airlines in the past few months. Most recently, I flew Southwest and was reminded how much I enjoy the flight compared to other airlines.

Company culture

Southwest has created a culture that is positive, fun and engaging for employees. Employees are happy and interact positively with customers. They are encouraged to be creative in the way they complete otherwise boring, repetitive tasks required by federal regulations.

One of my favorites was the flight attendant who asked, “Did anyone lose this?” Of course, we all looked up. The attendant was smiling and said, “Now that I have your attention.” He then launched into the safety information, and we not only laughed, but actually paid attention. This kind of creativity makes the job fun for employees and engages customers.

Company policies

Southwest is focused on making low-cost air travel easy for customers and has several customer-focused policies, including open seating and no baggage or change fees.

I often joke about the cattle call when passengers are asked to line up according to their check-in number, but it works! Passengers line up, file in and quickly select their seats.

When bags fly free, passengers actually check their bags! On my Southwest flight, the overhead bins were practically empty. The boarding process was easy, passengers were happy and the trip was off on time and on a positive note.

On a flight with another airline, people didn’t want to pay to check their luggage, so they crammed their belongings into the largest suitcase they could carry on. The boarding process was slowed, and the overhead bins were stuffed full. Even some carry-on luggage had to be checked at the gate.

Strong company performance

Building the right culture has paid off for Southwest. Customer satisfaction ratings are high. According to USA Today, Southwest earned the top overall score in J.D. Power’s survey of individual airline ratings for 2017. Southwest got the top score in both the low-cost carrier category and among all carriers surveyed.

In addition, Southwest has been profitable for 44 years consecutive years and has outperformed the market over the past five years. Southwest had an annualized profit growth rate of 52 percent between 2012 and 2016.

Communication between employees and the company is critical to a strong culture. Technology, like our text communication platform, makes it easy for employees to send feedback and suggestions to leadership. Without that frontline connection, leaders lose valuable information about customers.

Regardless of the size of the organization, a positive culture that engages and motivates employees has a positive impact on the company’s bottom line. Sure, some companies succeed without an employee-focused culture, but they will see their performance decline over time.

George Klein is the CEO/Founder ofPeoplocity, a text messaging and engagement platform. Contact him atGeorge@peoplocity.com.     

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