One guy and 12 minutes to a lifelong customer @SouthwestAir

Not long ago, a little boy was murdered.

Soon after, his grandpa was traveling to see his little 3 year old grandson one last time.

He was running for the plane, desperately late despite getting to the airport several hours before departure.

After two hours of standing in line, pleading with TSA officials and airline employees to help him get to his gate on time, his perception was that no one seemed to care how important it was to make that plane.

Waiting

While the drama takes place in the ticket and security line, the airplane was sitting at the gate.

Waiting, waiting and more waiting.

It’s a Southwest airplane.

Anyone who has traveled with and/or read about Southwest knows that one of their top operational priorities is fast turnaround at the airport’s gate.

It’s simple. Planes make money in the air. They don’t make money sitting at the gate.

Southwest takes that to heart. Their focus on at-the-gate efficiency is so well polished that they can turn a plane from arrival to departure in 20 minutes, 2-3 times faster than many competitors.

Every employee is well aware of that focus.

The grapevine

Somehow, someone at the gate found out.

Despite the focus on turnaround and the potential risk to their jobs, the ticketing agent and pilot refused to move the plane away from the gate until the grandpa arrived.

People know to make these kinds of decisions every day, but they often don’t out of fear for their jobs or the specter of “policy”.

The wrong kind of business culture breeds that behavior.

The right kind of business culture empowers their employees to make decisions that are the right ones for the customer at that moment, even if they temporarily fly in the face of business policy or strategic goals. They hire and train with those things in mind.

The agent and pilot knew what should be done and took action.

Loyalty

Who do you think that grandpa and family fly with in the future?

Opportunities to create life-long loyalty are fleeting. Make the most of the ones you get and make sure your people do too.

Especially when it’s the right thing to do.

Leverage your strengths


Today’s guest post is from Freight Dawg (gotta like that name), who writes about Southwest Airlines’ free baggage policy.

An additional thought to take away from this: Leverage your strengths.

Home run hitters don’t work on their pitching. They work on their hitting.

Something special in the air

I have to say that I never expected a country-western song to be a guest post, but it is what it is.

For the rest of the story about how United Airlines baggage handlers trashed Dave Carroll’s guitar and more importantly, their customer service and management mistakes afterwards, drop over to FastCompany.com.

4.5 million views later, it’s more than the old saw that customers who have a bad experience tell 10 people. Nowadays, they can tell everyone, everywhere.

If your service isn’t what it should be, don’t be surprised if you end up going viral for all the wrong reasons.

Of course, that assumes that you care in the first place.

PS: Play close attention to the winner in this deal: Taylor Guitars.

Update: CNN’s Wolf Blitzer covers the story.

Update: United Breaks Guitars – Song 2

Update: A video that was supposedly made by the Mrs. Irlweg referred to in both songs. I don’t know if it’s really her or not. If it is, not a wise move IMO.

Chipping away at your clients – Bad idea

During our stay in Missoula for the granddaughter’s arrival, we had the pleasure of spending the night at the Missoula Comfort Inn.

When I arrived at the front desk to get a receipt for the visit, the bill came with the now-obligatory $1.75 charge for using the safe in the room.

The buck seventy five isn’t the point.

It’s the annoyance of constantly having to be vigilant so that you aren’t the one getting taken by the corporate hotel chain management group who thinks that slipping this little charge (or some other little fee) by the majority of their clients is going to  make their profit numbers.

And maybe it will, but it’s a bad idea.

Yes, I’m well aware that you know that most people are too timid to say anything about it. Heaven forbid that we get pissy about a 1.75 fee on the bill. It might make us look cheap or chintzy to the desk clerk.

It’s not just the timid.

It’s the busy or inattentive clients who don’t notice it.

It’s the express checkout clients who never see the receipt.

Your defense is limp. It really makes no difference that you notify us at the front desk (via a sign) that you will charge $1.75 per night and that it can be removed by asking at the front desk. This is particularly so since it is automated and can only be removed at checkout, NOT at check in time.

The point is that chipping away at your clientele with sneaky little charges like this – particularly for services that they rarely use – is a bad idea and leaves your clients with a bad taste in their mouths about your business.

Is that what you really want?

If that extra $1.75 is necessary for your business to reach the necessary profit margin to pay the front desk staff minimum wage, then just do it. Add it to the room fee. These days you could call it a fuel charge. At least that is believable, when it floats with the cost of fuel.

Do you really think your guests are going to choose another motel because you charge $125.75 instead of $124?

Answer: Only if you do it by Post-It noting it onto the bill at the end.

Not only do you waste your guests’ time by forcing this little “please remove it from the bill” exercise, but you also slow down the checkout process and waste your employees time.

You aren’t tricking anyone. You’re just ticking them off.

Your little $1.75 fee – and really not even the fee, but the act of how you tried to get it, regardless of how common this technique may be – is the one tiny little negative aspect of a trip to Missoula to meet my first grandchild.

Just because everyone else does it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Earl Nightingale would be proud

In a regular air travel column in Conde Nast’s Portfolio called “2B” (referring to a first class seat, whatever that is these days), the column’s author talks about Southwest airlines non-standard (for the airline industry) behavior.

Decades ago, Earl Nightingale said something along the lines of “If you enter a market and don’t know what to do, watch what everyone else does and then do the opposite if you want to be successful.”

He also noted, as has Dan Kennedy, myself and others have repeated and witnessed, that people will stand there and watch you do something different than commonly-accepted industry behavior, become wildly successful at it, and yet, they’ll never bother to change their behavior.

The newsletters I mentioned yesterday are a prime example of it, but that isn’t the subject at hand.

As the author of this column asks rhetorically, “Whatâ??s the airline-industry jargon for unconventional wisdom?” – Southwest Airlines.

Much of what they do is common sense, yet none of the struggling “major” airlines bother to emulate any of their strategies as the slide into the tar pits of their industry.

What are you doing simply because every other business in your industry does so?

Is there a good reason, or are you simply following the Pied Piper?

In any other industry, would people DO those things?

Think about it. If you need some context, ask yourself “What would Southwest do if they bought your business?”

Southwest: Something simple in the air

Yes, it’s a play on the now-untenable “Something special in the air” that American Airlines used to use – back when they really were special.

Southwest Airlines announced changes in their business model that are easy for any air traveler to understand.

Click the image below to see the entire graphic from Southwest.com:

Now I had to admit that flying Southwest used to make me nuts because there was so much difference between the cattle car experience and what everyone else did.

Since those days year ago, they’ve made boarding changes to make things far more normal, and given that everyone else has cut service to the bone, now the other guys are the cattle cars.

Rather than follow the industry – Southwest has always tended to take a page from Earl Nightingale, that is, watch what the mainstream airlines do, and do just the opposite.

That’s just where this is coming from.

Instead of making their business complicated, they’ve made it simpler.

That’s not exactly news. They’ve done simple all along – such as using the same model of airliner across the entire company.

They do simple for a reason: They understand that eliminating all this complexity makes it easier for their staff and their passengers, but that isn’t the real “secret” to all this simplicity.

The key to this latest simplification move isn’t just making the other airlines look like idiots (as if they need help), but that it allows Southwest to chip one more little piece away from their turnaround process (land, deplane/unload, clean, board/load, takeoff) without slowing things down to check for paid tags, or capture a credit card or make change, and so on.

Plus it’s a heckuva lot less annoying to the passenger.

Result: More on time departures, faster turnaround, more flights, less planes, happier customers who met all their connections, and far lower expenses for feeding/housing travelers stranded by their inability to manage their on-time arrival.

Southwest is the Apple Computer of the airline business – except perhaps in price.

Simple is better.

What can you do to simplify YOUR business?