Customer experience drives results.

We’re already halfway through the year and one encouraging trend in the region is the number of companies who are taking steps to improve customer experience. I wouldn’t say they are in the hundred, but very definitely in the tens. The numbers aren’t important, what matters is the emergence of a new intent.Southwest meme

Customer experience is not what your customer service centre delivers. Customer service centres exist to address failures in customer experience. If I have to visit another telemarketing centre I may let out a little scream. All those poor people lashed to their terminals, trying to address customers’ fundamental lack of understanding; disappointment and outrage. That’s no way to live; and it’s no way for a brand to act.

If we all hired the right people to deliver our brand promises; life would become a lot easier. Yes, they would need to be equipped and empowered, but that is the easy part. Finding people with the right attitude is the challenge. This is not about adding HR processes, but about making them on-brand; from attracting talent, interviewing, inducting, developing, and rewarding. In practice, talent management in our region is typically off-brand in the sense that it’s entirely generic.

Southwest Airlines, the leading US low cost carrier is often cited as a glorious example of getting the people dimension right. Before telling you about it, I checked out their annual reports for the last five years just to make sure this wasn’t a consultant’s confection. It isn’t.

Southwest decided on a very clear winning ambition*: to be the highest-profit airline in America by delivering the highest employee and customer satisfaction.

(* A winning ambition is like a Mission Statement, only more interesting).

So, they put employees first, because they know that human engagement is the primary differentiator in a service business. Their brand promise is simple – it’s cheap and cheerful. And while cheap differentiates them from flagship carriers, it does not differentiate them from other low-cost carriers such as Jet Blue. All their innovations around keeping prices low have been copied. But what has not been copied in an authentic way is the cheerfulness their people bring to the job.They deliver cheer across the entire consumer journey, one they call the Southwest Experience, from buying your ticket to arriving at the airport, to getting on the plane, to being on the plane, disembarking and staying in touch through social media and so forth. Flight attendants make their own announcements. Some of them tell poems, and some sing or rap the announcement. It puts a smile on the passengers faces, plus they listen. And it’s something they will remember and look forward to next time.

The Southwest Experience encourages good humour. Laughter is one of their deliverables. They also have three very distinct cultural values. One is called the Warrior Spirit, another is A Servant’s Heart. And the third is Fun-Loving Attitude. (Strikingly different from words like Innovation, Integrity and Customer Focus!)

They start by getting the right people, and getting the people right. Southwest recruitment ads are humorous. An early one showed a drawing of a dinosaur; crazily coloured over by a schoolkid. And a teacher’s note: “Brian, please try to colour inside the lines.” The body copy read, ‘Brian showed an early aptitude for working at Southwest Airlines’.

Southwest has figured it is much harder to develop the right attitude than to develop the right skills. So, job interviews start when applicants enter the building. The receptionist will rate them on friendliness. They’re observed in the waiting room: are they chatting with other people or are their earplugs in? During these interviews, Southwest uses a seven-point checklist, rating applicants on personality dimensions that are very hard to fake.

Southwest also has a Culture Committee because they realised they were growing faster than the culture could sustain. In the short term, they would generate profits, but in the long term, if the people weren’t aligned, the brand would collapse on itself.

Southwest’s earnings in 2016 were a record $2.37 billion. Total operating revenues topped $20 billion. It’s also the 23rd consecutive year they’ve been named in Fortune’s list of World’s Most Admired Companies.

Go and look at to see how people can drive results.


Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside

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