When exploring the lives of individuals who characterize servant-leadership and exploring ourselves as a step toward becoming servant-leaders, why is Southwest Airlines often cited as an organization which sustains a competitive advantage based on its people practices? How does the practice of Southwest address the human side of business?
There seem to be lots of examples above as to what makes South West airlines stand out from other competitors, such as Delta, which is lambasted in #9 above. Certainly, what is different about them is the way they treat their staff, and their belief that happy staff = successful business. When you think about it, this stands in complete contrast to so many organisations that I know of and have worked in, where the staff are treated despicably, and the business suffers as a result.
I believe that the top management at Southwest Airlines have explored the practices of Delta Airlines and have happily noticed that, by doing the opposite of what Delta does, will make you successful. As a frequent flier, my worst experiences have been with Delta, while I never encounter this in Southwest, when I used to fly in and out of Seattle.
For example, Delta's personnel cannot be any more rude because their hours are limited. They are FAMOUS for losing luggage, for over-charging, and for having the worst seating for first and business class passengers. Their lounge is terrible, and their concourses are shambolic as well. You can tell who flies Delta by the look on their faces- customers often look depressed, stressed out, or plain angry.
Southwest has given me a much better service. I am a scared flier and I have been allowed by SW attendants in various occasions to purchase a drink prior departure-otherwise, I would have been a nervous wreck. Granted, some of the attendants knew me from my frequent use of the route. However, the seating got me confused because I have never been given leadway to choose. Yet, I remember one time that I was able to sit next to a very attractive traveler and that cannot be beat.
I believe strongly that SW practices are a direct counteraction from the common practices conducted at Delta. I absolutely detest Delta and it is a shame I haven't been in route anywhere that Southwest services any of these days.
I fly fairly often, and if I ever have a choice I make sure I fly Southwest. They are hands down the most efficient, friendly, cost-effective airline I have enountered.
As others have noted above...their flight attendants are funny. They interact with the passengers (IE: on one trip to Vegas...they passed around the hat if people wanted to gamble...and those wanting to put a dollar in the hat. Then they had a game and the winner got to take home the cash.)
The pilots make a point to greet passengers. The flights are rarely late. You do not have to pay extra to check luggage. The open boarding is more efficient...because people don't have to be seated and then get up and down for those who come later who are seated next to the window...etc.
They just seem to have a more customer-friendly philosophy, and they like to have fun.
One of my experiences with Southwest was reflected in the above post. The cabin instructions have always been a scripted experience. Southwest Airlines was the first time I actually heard flight attendants have fun with it. They still covered the requisite material, but did so in a manner that brought brevity to the situation. A fellow next to me who was noticeably nervous prior to the flight started actually relaxed a bit smiled and felt good about being there after seeing this "vaudeville" version of the seat belt and emergency exit element. This was confirmed when the pilot got on the speaker and gave us flight information in the midst of the flight and said, "I wish I could tell you that there is something pretty and unique to examine out the window, but there isn't. Sorry." He laughed and there was an audible laughter present. I think that these might be the elements that reflect how Southwest Air reflects some element of servant leadership in not forgetting the fact that in the instant in the sky, when a flight is airborne, everyone is the same and fears the same elements.
Southwest seems to be trying to sell the whole flying experience rather than simply selling a seat as a commodity. This is an example of them trying to tap into the "human" side of business rather than sticking solely with the more economic side of business. All of the things mentioned show this effort. I would also point to their attempts to have their flight attendants be funny. In the old days, airlines tried to sell high class atmosphere to their passengers. Nowadays, most airlines have abandoned any attempt to sell an experience. Southwest is the exception.
A small way that customers of airlines can suddenly change the master-servant relationship is the idea that you can choose your own seat rather than having one designated for you by the "master" or the ticketing agent. So perhaps this is one thing that Southwest is trying to address, ignoring the fact that you can also often have some say in your seat if you book early or check in early on other airlines.
But the change in feeling may be worthwhile both in terms of the way customers feel and how that translates to the bottom line.
I've lived in the Midwest and the South, so I have never flown on this airline; however, I just saw a short news story on the boarding practices of Southwest Airlines. Their practice of open-seat boarding is the most efficient method of boarding because the most desirable seats (window) fill up first, followed by the aisle seats. The least desirable seats are in the middle, and those seats will get filled last--but only one person (the aisle sitter) will have to move in order to let those passengers into their seats. I infer from this practice that the company is interested in both efficiency and comfort for its customers--two things which are often diametrically opposed in the business world.
I can't speak intelligently about how SW Airlines handles its employees, though just through my experiences with them traveling on Southwest, they do seem more happy with their job than others I have witnessed. That's purely anecdotal, however.
Southwest is one of the few airlines that does not charge for the first two checked bags. Customers like this because they feel the other airlines nickel and dime them. I have found they would not mind paying the extra, even, if it was just in the original fare, and not an add on at check in. So they build some good customer will in that area. This also discourages the practice of carrying on as much luggage as possible, so more space in the overhead bins makes for a more pleasant loading and unloading experience.
They also are the only ones that practice no seat assignments, only boarding order. So if you check in relatively early, you can pick any window or aisle seat you want, and there's no confusion about someone being accidentally in someone else's seat.
These practices make Southwest both different and better, which is good business for anyone.