Things going right: Southwest Airlines
We’re always on the lookout for organizations that are demonstrating the financial and consistent success that comes with a performance chain that’s tightly aligned to intended customer experience.
Southwest Airlines comes up often in discussion among Aveusians, and no wonder. The company reports almost 40 consecutive years of profitability in a struggling industry. Two current examples of SWA operating decisions made with the customers in mind caught our attention this week. I decided it would be fun to open up our conversation here- let’s call it a kind of “celebration of things going right.”
As consumers are looking to be more self-sufficient, several Southwest competitors are testing out machines which allow fliers to scan their own boarding passes at the gate. It’s a good move for organizations like Delta which are looking to make the boarding process speedier and potentially free gate employees to assist customers with other issues.
But Southwest is following a different path. SWA spokesman Brad Hawkins said that agents scanning in boarding passes could be the first contact a flier makes with the airline’s staff, making it “a treasured moment of the customer experience where we build the relationship.”
It’s not a matter of right or wrong – it’s just an example of different decisions being made based on different goal customer experiences.
Consider this: Walmart and Nordstrom each promise something unique to their customers. If Walmart suddenly started offering the tailoring services that Nordstrom does, Walmart customers would quickly begin to question the company’s “Always low prices” guarantee. For the same reason, if Nordstrom suddenly implemented the self-checkout machines you can find in Walmart, customers would be dissatisfied with the lack of personal attention they’ve grown to associate with Nordstrom. Each store has clearly defined what their customers value most and executes accordingly. So, Southwest is doing something right by matching its boarding process to its target customer experience.
Here’s another Southwest example:
After acquiring AirTran in 2011, SWA made the decision to lease the Boeing 717 fleet that came with the acquisition to competitor Delta, sticking with their commitment to the Boeing 737. This cost-efficient operating decision falls right into line with SWA’s customer experience goals – keeping the experience as simple and as enjoyable as possible.
VP of ground operations, Chris Wahlenmaier, explains.
"We only need to train our mechanics on one type of airplane. We only need extra parts inventory for that one type of airplane. If we have to swap a plane out at the last minute for maintenance, the fleet is totally interchangeable—all our on-board crews and ground crews are already familiar with it. And there are no challenges in how and where we can park our planes on the ground, since they’re all the same shape and size."
This means that if a plane is swapped out at the last minute, the process moves a whole lot smoother for both passengers and staff. Customers don’t have to worry about rearranging seating arrangements, or spend hours waiting on the runway until a ground crew is available.
Southwest Airline’s performance chain is clearly designed with the customer in mind. Each decision, whether it’s based on mechanics, or customer service, is tightly aligned with intended customer experience.
Close your eyes and consider your organization’s performance chain. Take into account all the things that happen – from the moment you trigger demand, all the way until you have cash in the bank. Do you see speed? Flexibility? How about predictability? Are you getting the most you can from staff and capital assets? If you don’t like some of your answers, ask one more question: are operating decisions throughout your performance chain made to match target customer experience?
What organization have you spotted lately that’s doing things right?
About the author:
Paula Morgan has over 25 years in health care sales, marketing and strategy, with a diverse experience in both products and services. When out of the office, Paula loves tennis, indie movies, and Broadway plays. Learn more about Paula.
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