I'm reading a book titled Do The Right Thing by James F. Parker. He was the CEO for Southwest Airlines during 9/11. My boss, Dr. Morgan, has been talking about the great experiences he's has with Southwest Airlines lately. He recently cancelled a flight the day before he was supposed to fly. They refunded his money with no penalties and no questions. Who does that?
I decided I'd find out more about this company so I went to the library and got the book. Now, if you want to buy the book, just get it on Amazon because the bookstores don't seem to stock it so save yourself some time and gas. I've only read the first few chapters so far and I'm hooked.
One of the beginning chapters gives a riveting account of the 9/11 attacks. When the terrorist drove the planes into the World Trade Center, and it became obvious that this was an attack on the United States, all planes were immediately instructed to land at the nearest airstrip. This left passengers and crews stranded all over the country. Southwest Airlines rented buses to drive as many people home as they could. For the others, they rented hotel rooms and the employees made it their business to see that their passengers were fed and entertained, taking them to movies and bowling and putting the cost on their credit cards. How's that for dedicated employees?
You may be wondering where Southwest found these great, dedicated employees. I think to a certain extent, good hiring was involved, but to a greater extent, it was the culture they built. While all other airlines cut back on flights once the no-fly mandate was lifted, Southwest continued full service. While other airlines laid off 20% of their employees, Southwest kept everyone at full salary and even kept paying into their profit sharing funds. The only ones who took a financial hit at Southwest were the officers and board members. The top 10 voluntarily gave up their salary for the quarter so that other bills could be paid. When employees offered to take pay cuts or forgo pay, they were not allowed to do that, only people officer level and above could make that sacrifice.
Southwest showed that they understood the people who worked for them, their concerns, and their lives. They know that many people work paycheck to paycheck and there's not a lot of wiggle room. The employees, showed their gratitude by working around the clock if needed, never complaining about the new restrictions brought about by the terrorist attacks, and continued to provide outstanding service.
There's one more element that plays in here; the customers. Southwest was prepared and expecting to refund millions of dollars in airfares. The flood of requests never came. Many customers contacted them and said they didn't want a refund because they understood what the airline must be dealing with. They went on to recount wonderful experiences they'd had with Southwest including fares that allowed them to see their loved ones more often, and kindness shown toward their children and the elderly. Some even met their spouse aboard a Southwest flight.
It's a true top-down message. The people at the top do the right thing, the employees recognize that and respond the same way, and the passengers feel that and become raving fans, like Dr. Morgan. Isn't that what makes a dental practice successful, too? I'm going to keep reading and reporting back to you on this book. Wouldn't hurt to pick up a copy yourself. I will definitely plan a staff meeting around The Southwest Way.