Watching Southwest Airlines Behind the Scenes

Posted Saturday, May 26, 2012 in Customer Culture by Patricia Seybold

A couple of years ago, Ronni Marshak and I had a unique opportunity to watch the inner workings at Southwest Airlines during one of its busiest and most stressful times. What I found truly amazing was the degree to which customer-centricity permeated ALL the operations of this organization. Everyone understood what mattered to customers and why. Very complex decisions were being made to optimize difficult and challenging choices in real time. Yet everyone was completely grounded in the same ethos: We don't disrupt our customers' lives, unless it's absolutely unavoidable. And we don't have to charge a premium to make money. We just have to optimize around what matters most to customers and keeps sales volume and execution quality high.

I am often asked whether it's possible to change an inwardly focused company culture to a customer-centric culture. I still don’t know the answer to that question for sure. But I now know what such a culture looks and acts like. It's really very simple. You optimize decisions and operations to deliver what you promised to customers. You think about anything that might adversely impact the customer experience and try to mitigate it before it does. When something unavoidable gets in the way, you do what it takes to make it right. You apologize and you explain what happened and why. You make amends. And you remain friends.


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