SvN reader Michelle posted this comment in the best customer experience you’ve had lately thread:
Several weeks ago I ran out of cash at the Farmers’ Market. After sampling some goat cheese I told the vendor I’d definitely buy some the next week because I’d ran out of cash that day. She said “take it home today and pay me next week.”
It’s not surprising that a vendor at a Farmers’ Market would behave that way but it was still so refreshing to just be trusted as a consumer. It seems like so many businesses/vendors think consumers are “trying to get one over” on them. Naturally the goat cheese lady now has a loyal customer for life.
It occurred to me the exact same concept applies to workplaces too. Just swap out the word employee for customer. When employees are trusted and treated like adults, they appreciate it just as much. The result: loyal employees who want to stick around forever.
The secret to Southwest’s success
Southwest Airlines founder Herbert D. Kelleher has a similar theory. He says, “You have to treat your employees like customers.” His final meeting as head of Southwest shows what an employee-centric management style can create…
When Mr. Kelleher, 77, entered the main meeting room, shareholders gave him the kind of standing ovation usually reserved for rock stars. The Southwest pilots union is also in the process of negotiating a new contract with management. But not only did the Southwest pilots not set up a picket line, they took out a full page ad in USA Today thanking Mr. Kelleher for all he had done. “The pilots of Southwest Airlines want to express our sentiment to Herb that it has been an honor and a privilege to be a part of his aviation legacy,” said the union president, Carl Kowitzky, in a statement…
But when he brought up the pilots ad — and when he talked about how much the company’s employees meant to him — he wept. “I’m Lucky Herbie for having all of these years with all of you,” he said. More than a few people in the audience wept right along with him.
No surprise there, either. Over the years, whenever reporters would ask him the secret to Southwest’s success, Mr. Kelleher had a stock response. “You have to treat your employees like customers,” he told Fortune in 2001. “When you treat them right, then they will treat your outside customers right. That has been a powerful competitive weapon for us.” As he stepped away from the company this week, his line didn’t change.
“We’ve never had layoffs,” he told me the day before the annual meeting, sitting on the couch of the single messiest executive office I’ve ever seen. “We could have made more money if we furloughed people. But we don’t do that. And we honor them constantly. Our people know that if they are sick, we will take care of them. If there are occasions or grief or joy, we will be there with them. They know that we value them as people, not just cogs in a machine…”
“There isn’t any customer satisfaction without employee satisfaction,” said Gordon Bethune, the former chief executive of Continental Airlines, and an old friend of Mr. Kelleher’s. “He recognized that good employee relations would affect the bottom line. He knew that having employees who wanted to do a good job would drive revenue and lower costs.”