Aaron J. Crowley

Stone Industry Consultant

Southwest Airlines is an American icon. From humble beginnings to their innovative “non-hub” hop-scotching flight paths, to the fact that they are about the only profitable airline around makes them the envy of entrepreneurs and a case study for success in a bunch of books and a heap of articles.  

Allow me to add an article to the pile. :-)

Recently I was flying home on Southwest from Chicago after a speaking engagement and was privileged to observe this company in action. In the 30 minutes between taking my seat and taking off, the employees on this flight “conducted business” with such a display of character that I defied the instructions to shut off electronic devices so I could whip open my laptop and document my observations! 

The following stories of care, consideration, and communication are truly unique to the airline industry but they need not be unique in our small businesses.  

Sitting towards the front of the plane, I had a front row seat when a Southwest stewardess breathlessly hopped onto the plane and handed a McDonald’s bag to an elderly woman sitting right by the door.  From what I could overhear of the interchange, the stewardess had ran, literally, up the gangplank and then down the concourse to buy dinner for the lady because she’d been nervous that she’d miss her flight if she stopped to eat.

She needn’t have worried.

A few minutes later the voice of a stewardess crackled over the intercom to inform us that we’d be a few minutes late in departing because the last two passengers hadn’t yet arrived…they were on a late plane that was just then making its descent to land. They had decided to hold our flight so the two helpless stragglers could get home on time.

Then every five minutes or so the captain kept us updated as to the progress of our delay in a relaxed and almost comical way…letting us know that they had just passed the gate, then informing us that they were just waiting for the luggage transfer, and then finally, we were all set to go. This was quite unlike the mystifying and unexplained delays so common among other carriers!

At every level, it was obvious this company operates at a higher level than its competitors and therein lies an amazing opportunity for the small businesses that choose to copy Southwest’s culture of care, consideration and communication. 

Lesson #1: Look for opportunities to truly care for the needs of the customer and empower employees to go the extra mile when a customer is in need. A countertop customer may not need McDonald’s, but a gracious act might make their day. Pushing to meet a deadline for a party, picking up a sink, or putting the drawers back in the cabinets are simple yet profound acts of care that your competitors may not be willing to perform.

Lesson #2: Admit mistakes and make things right even when it hurts the schedule or the bottom line. The airline made the difficult choice to delay hundreds to accommodate two passengers who would have missed their connecting flight by no fault of their own. Putting the next job on hold to right a wronged project is painful, but something every customer will understand and even appreciate.

Lesson #3: Communicate, communicate, communicate! When you are struggling to meet an obligation, when you’re stumbling to execute as expected, the simple act of regularly updating the customer as to your progress (or lack of progress) is the honorable (and smart) thing to do.

The great thing about business is that there is an endless supply of opportunities to distinguish our companies in the eyes of our customers through caring, consideration, and communication.

And the companies that copy Southwest’s approach, will be as successful in their own right. And who knows, maybe someday there’ll be articles written about them too! 

 

Aaron Crowley is a stone shop owner, author, speaker, and consultant to mid-size stone companies. Contact him at