Houston Texas – 11/30/2016
“We’re sorry to lose you!”, the five-word response from Southwest Airlines’ CEO Gary Kelly, after receiving a complaint letter from a disgruntled customer. This customer felt that using humor to illustrate aircraft safety was highly inappropriate.
Letting the crew go off-script goes against the norm for airlines, but “having fun” is a prized Core Value at Southwest. Flight attendants will crack jokes, sing, rap and do whatever it takes to get passengers’ attention during the safety demonstration. All the fun is backed by a serious safety agenda and strict adherence to airline requirements.
While this is a unique approach, it is at the very core of who Southwest is as a company. “The Southwest Way” is well defined; ‘Have fun, don’t take yourself too seriously, maintain perspective, celebrate successes, enjoy your work and be a passionate team player.’
While many companies would have apologized to the customer, compensated them in some way and chastised the flight crew for their behavior, Kelly chose to let the customer go. He realized that in order to be true to purpose he had to stand behind his team and everything that Southwest stands for. In his mind, it was more important for Southwest to be who they are than to try to be something to everyone.
Southwest Airlines is a perfect example of how your company’s purpose won’t resonate with everyone, but it will attract more like-minded customers. It is important to keep purpose at the forefront and let it guide your decisions so that you do attract those customers you most enjoy.
To be a strong brand that is known for great culture and success, don’t sacrifice your purpose by trying to please everyone!