Keynote: Southwest Airlines President Emeritus Colleen Barrett on how to inspire employees to earn love from customers

12:45 — Andy Sernovitz introduces author and Southwest Airlines President Emeritus, Colleen Barrett.

12:46 — Confesses that as a 67-year-old she just learned how to email. But she “gets” social media.

12:47 — Let’s have a conversation. People learn from conversations.

12:47 — The company has capitalized on the word LUV. But the term did not come from marketing specialists. As down-to-earth people running an airline, they saw a need. 3 carriers based in Texas at the time, and not one of them was concentrating on customer service.

12:48 — In the late 1960s the only people traveling were business peple and they were on an expense account. Flying was considered to be for the elite, and there was nothing elite about the folks at Southwest. They wanted people to realize that flying could be fun.

12: 49 — They wanted to become a household word. Had to depend on word of mouth because they had no budget for advertising. After all the litigation trying to get them out of the business (they were targeted by larger carriers), they had $198 in the bank.

12:50 — 3 attributes: Spirit, Servant’s Heart, Fun-Loving Attitude.

12:51 — This is the corporate culture they developed. Wanted to become friends with their customers, to build a relationship with them. No matter what your business is, you are in the customer service business. We’re in the customer service business but happen to provide airline transportation.

12:52 — We hire for attitude, train for skills. How do you hire for attitude? It’s common sense. It’s all about people who don’t take themselves too seriously, who know how to market themselves, who want to be part of a team.

12:54 — They developed an organizational chart because she was tired of questions by MBA’s about why they didn’t have one.

12:55 — We have allowed people to be themselves.

12:56 — What’s more important to SW Airlines: employees, customers, shareholders? Herb Kelleher said it’s employees. It starts there. Treat people the way you want to be treated. It’s that simple.

 12:57 — Focus on civility. Say please, thank you — and mean it. Employees treat each other well, then naturally treat passengers the same way. We treat customers like family.

 1:00 — Union employees talk to non-union employees. They may have disagreements, but there is respect and an ownership feeling. At any given time, employees own 10-12% of Southwest stock.

1:02 — Employees know they are empowered to make a customer service decision, to do what they think is the right thing for the customer.

1:03 — Why don’t people want to have fun? We encourage it as a part of employees being themselves. The magic is not having to do an obligatory 8- to 10-hour shift. You have to have passion for what you do, so you look forward to going to work. When you allow people to feel that way, it’s awesome. They will take their charge seriously.

 1:05 — How does that translate to your customers? If you’re reaching people’s hearts and you can connect with an individual rather than a collective group, customers will become your advocates.

1:08 — Haven’t run this ad in years and years, but customers remember it and refer to a flight as being on “the company plane.”

1:09 — When they were broke, ran a one-line help wanted ad: “We’re looking for Raquel Welch look-alikes.” That determined the people who applied.

Q How do you keep your team motivated?

A We have a culture committee, national and local. We celebrate everything, no matter how small. It’s inexpensive: you can do a lot with balloons and confetti. We’re spontaneous, may be only a five-minute celebration. They view Halloween as a national holiday, which you know if you’ve flown on that day. They celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Q What is the Morning Overview Meeting?

A MOM Meeting is only 5 people. Purpose: to study everything that happened the day before and decide what we need to do to be proactive to forestall complaints.

They have a 2.7% turnover rate, which is unheard of in this business. People realize that their contribution is important — a very egalitarian spirit.










About Connie Reece

Now retired, Connie Reece has been a pioneer in the field of social media. In 2007, Connie created the Frozen Pea Fund, the first grassroots fundraising effort started solely on Twitter; her work was featured in best-selling author Shel Israel’s "Twitterville." Connie was a winner of the inaugural Texas Social Media Awards in 2009 and was profiled by AustinWoman magazine as one of the top five women in social media in Austin. In 2011, Connie won the Dewey Winburne Community Service Award at SXSW.

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