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The Real Thing… the Heart Thing

customer service Mar 24, 2010

Flying to the technology conference DEMO, in Palm Desert with a client. Instead of thinking about the conference and what I will see and who I will meet – I’m wondering, “why doesn’t Southwest fly Philly to Palm Springs?” Really. Because it makes a difference to me. Hmmm…

Have you ever wondered why Southwest is such a leader in its field?

Perhaps it’s because it offers superior airplanes or it could be because of their hiring process which selects only the very top of the class from the top universities? Or maybe their pilots are better trained or it might be that they use better airport facilities?

Clearly, for anyone who has flown Southwest, it is none of the above and in fact, it sometimes can be hard to pinpoint what it is about Southwest that makes frequent flyers into raving fans.

Could it be more subtle things like the smile at check out? Is it the simple queuing process by which you line up to get on board? This is done in a very democratic “first come first serve basis”. Or could it be that they will let you pick your favorite seat? Because if I’m at least somewhere before B-50, I have a shot at getting a coveted aisle space. Is it the fact that occasionally, but not always, the flight attendants make sincere and effective stabs at humor?

From a business model point of view- as has been covered in many business journals – is it as simple as treating employees really well? Kindness motivates employees to treat customers well and maybe it is as simple as that. The overall sense from a value delivery point of view – or value creation from the customer’s point of view – is that taken together, all the little pieces make one big puzzle that fits together and works well.

United could not make ‘TED‘ work and Delta likewise could not make their ‘Song‘ work – even with superior resources at the time – because they were imitations or “shadows” of the real thing. They lacked the “heart” of the real thing and so therein lies the crux of the matter.

The heart of the organization – that which matters top to bottom to everyone in a company – is what will come out as an emergent property of its own. That is a property that is hard to put your finger on, hard to describe, however, one that is palpable and real to customers. The lesson here for companies big and small is the absolute need to think through the subtleties and even the smallest things you do to enhance even the smallest interactions with customers.

This would be a step in the right direction.

The bigger point with Southwest and their competitors is that simply trying to copy the little things can leave you with but a shadow – as in United and Delta’s case – of the real thing. The real thing has got to be the heart thing – the heart thing means… do you really care about your customers in a way that they can understand? You see, by having that missional vision of what you want customers to take away from interacting with you -as first and foremost on your mind- you are able to look at all the moving parts of your service or your product and challenge it against that vision.

Southwest lives out of their “Luv” always asking, “How do we love you? Let us count the ways…”. Corny? As a flyer who only flies Southwest if it is going where I need to go – it’s very real and very true.

How about your company? Are you transmitting what you think about your customers in ways, big and small?