Portions of this post were taken for an article by Stan Phelps on Forbes:
Two years ago Southwest Airlines launched new branding for the airline. It’s snappier, yet still reflective of a colorful Southwest. One thing stands out. The heart is now more prominent in the branding. Perhaps the biggest and most unique reflection of this is a large heart painted on the underbelly of each plane.
The Heart Sets Things Apart
True advocacy begins only once you reach the heart of your customer. The heart has always been central to Southwest. One may point to the fact that airline was founded at Love Field in Dallas or that its NYSE stock ticker symbol is LUV. But according to Dr. Fathi El-Nadi, Southwest culture can be traced all the way back to its founder. “Herb Kelleher encouraged informality and wanted staff to have fun at their jobs. Employees were valued, with Kelleher acknowledging births, marriages and deaths by notes and cards. Staff were encouraged to pitch in and help out, especially at check-in, giving Southwest turnaround times less than half the industry average.”
Start With Heart
You can’t have happy enthused customers without happy engaged employees. How do you hire for heart? Like Southwest, you need to put empathy front and central. Empathy is caring. Unlike a smile, you can’t fake empathy. It’s a vital aspect of the customer experience. How do you focus on increasing empathy? First and foremost, you need to make it a key hiring factor. In the past, Southwest employed a brilliant interviewing tactic when hiring flight attendants. The airline conducts group interviews. One by one, applicants will be asked to come to the front of the room. The task is to tell everyone their most embarrassing moment. Here’s the Judo-like application of the tactic. The applicant sharing their moment feels like they are being evaluated. Not so much. The interviewers are spending the majority of their focus on the audience. They are looking at the faces of the other interviewees. And they are looking for one thing: EMPATHY. Specifically, Southwest looks for three characteristics:
- a warrior spirit
- a servant’s heart
- a fun-luving attitude
Differentiation is Now Further Downstream
According to marketing and branding expert Rohit Bhargava, “We now live in an age of equivalency.” It’s very difficult to differentiate with your product or service in our connected world. Professor Niraj Dawar asserts that this has forced differentiation to be further downstream. In an HBR article, he asserts the importance of shifting your strategy from products to customers. Marketing becomes your strategy. “ To compete effectively, companies must shift their focus upstream to downstream activities, emphasizing how they define their competitive set, influence customers’ purchase criteria, innovate to solve customer problems, and build advantage by accumulating customer data and harnessing network effect. “
Employees are Key to Experience
Southwest’s focus on employees is a smart move. Your employees bring the customer experience to life. You can’t make up for in training what you missed in hiring. Kelleher was famous for saying that, “You hire for attitude, train for skill.” You can’t train employees to care. In Kelleher’s view, “That was Mom and Dad’s job.” Front line employees are central to the experience. HCL Technologies CEO and best-selling author Vineet Nayar states, “We call this the ‘value zone.’ Every employee who works in the value zone is capable of creating more or less value. The whole intent of Employees First is to do everything we can to enable those employees to create the most possible value.”
Logos as Symbols
What is a brand? For many, a simple definition is that, “a brand is a promise.” The symbol of the heart by Southwest is a promise to customers and a constant reminder to employees. According to the author of WTF – What’s the Future? Brian Solis, “Your brand is no longer what you say it is. Welcome to a new era of marketing and service in which your brand is defined by those who experience it.” I would only amend that slightly, “Your brand is no longer what you say it is. Welcome to a new era of marketing and service in which your brand is defined by those who experience it and more importantly, by those who deliver it.” Are you willing to put your heart into your brand like Southwest?
Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Watch this clip from Herb Kelleher. He talks about putting employees first. “The business of business is people.”