The Customer is King

As part of a new series, I’m introducing today’s leadership concept via a segment extracted from my latest book, Lead with LUV, coauthored by former Southwest Airlines president Colleen Barrett.


The Customer is King

I’ve said for many years that profit is the applause you get for taking care of your customers and creating a motivating environment for your people. No organization has lived and breathed that lesson better than Southwest Airlines.  Read on for a great example of how Southwest creates Raving Fan customers by taking care of them like nobody else does.

Ken: These days, nobody has to convince anybody that the customer reigns. People are realizing that their organizations will go nowhere without the loyalty and commitment of their customers. Companies are motivated to change when they discover the new rule: Today, if you don’t take great care of your customers, somebody else will.

Colleen: That’s for sure! So great customer service has to be top of mind for all of your people. We emphasize that all the time. I love the way you and Sheldon Bowles challenged us all to create Raving Fans®, not simply satisfied customers.

Ken: We think enthusiastic Raving Fan customers make your business into a great business. Today you can’t be content to simply satisfy customers. Raving Fan customers are customers who are so excited about the way you treat them that they want to brag about you—they become part of your sales force. Let me give you a simple yet powerful example of this, from an experience I had personally with Southwest Airlines.

What usually happens when you call most airlines to either make or change a reservation?  You get a recording that says, “All of our agents are busy right now, but your business is very important to us, so please stay on the line and we will be with you as soon as possible.” Then the music starts. You could be on hold for who knows how long, sitting and waiting to talk to a human being.

Recently, I called Southwest to change a reservation. Normally at Southwest, a human being picks up the phone. This time, a recording said, “I’m sorry, our Customer Service Agents are all busy right now; but at the beep, please leave your name and telephone number and we will call you back within ten minutes.” So that’s what I did. What do you think happened a few minutes later? My cell phone rang, and this pleasant voice said, “Is this Ken Blanchard?”

I said, “Yes.”

“Ken, this is Bob from Southwest Airlines. How may I help you?”

Colleen, I’ve never had that experience with any other airline. How did you make that happen?

Colleen: That’s a feature that’s available to all airlines. It’s called virtual queuing. It helps us handle our heaviest calling times without lowering our Customer Service standard.

Ken: Why would Southwest use such a feature, and no other airline seems to be doing it?

Colleen: I don’t know. But we’re always looking for service capabilities that far exceed those of the competition, and that even exceed customer expectations. Being called back by an airline? It was beyond most customers’ belief. Yet we routinely try to do the unexpected, and can then enjoy the growth and good reputation generated by customers like you, Ken, who have spontaneously joined our sales force by bragging about us.


If you think it’s too much trouble to go the extra mile for your customers, think again. It’s just common sense: Treat your customers unexpectedly well and they’ll be so delighted they will come back again and again, tell their friends, and your organization will reap the benefits.  Do you have any great customer service stories that have become legendary around your organization? If not, you might want to stop and think about it.

Lack of Humor in the Workplace is No Laughing Matter

It amazes me how seriously some people in business take themselves.  It’s as if they have come to the conclusion that who they are or what they are doing is so important that there should be no time for anything as frivolous as laughter.  This is a sad outlook on life.

I tell people who work with me to take their work seriously and themselves lightly.  In doing so, they are better apt to have a sense of perspective about what they are doing that is balanced, and an openness to suggestions and new ideas I often find missing from those who are more tunnel-visioned and only focused on business. A sense of humor serves as a pressure valve that can keep you enjoying your work even when times are stressful. I find it a preferred alternative to developing an ulcer or migraine headache.  In fact, it is one of the best ways I know to get you through stressful times on the job.

I have found three useful methods for keeping a sense of humor.

1)  Take time for yourself. You should take time to relax and enjoy yourself some every day.  What this means will vary from person to person.  It may be reading a magazine, taking a walk, practicing yoga, or playing with your children. I personally recommend skipping.  I believe that it’s impossible to skip and not enjoy yourself—and people who see you will probably laugh as well.  (Unfortunately, I’m afraid my own skipping days are over now that I have two “bionic” hips!)  I also recommend easing into your day—that is, getting up an extra 30 to 45 minutes earlier each morning so you don’t have to “jolt and bolt” like a race horse out of the starting gate. If you are too busy to take some time for yourself, you will inevitably start to expect others you work with to do as you do, and stress will result for both you and your people.

2)  Set an example. Let others you work with know that it’s okay to joke with you by sharing your own sense of humor. I think the best humor is self-deprecating, because it’s never at someone else’s expense.  For example, when I’m with a group having a good time at work I love to say something like, “Hey, if I’m in charge here, how come everyone’s laughing?”

If you are a manager, CEO, or business owner, you have a great amount of influence in setting the tone of the work environment.  You need to show that it’s okay to have fun at work and to celebrate successes when they occur.  For example, once to celebrate record sales halfway through our fiscal year, we closed the company and took employees to the beach for some fun in the sun.  We took time to explain our company’s financials and why we were celebrating—and what it would mean to each employee in terms of gain sharing if our sales and profit rate continued.

3)  When you find yourself stressed about something, ask yourself, “What difference will this make in 100 years?” You guessed it:  No difference.  So why get stressed about it now?  Instead, make a plan and take positive steps toward your goals in a way that is reasonable for both yourself and those around you.

I use another perspective-setting technique that I call my “zoo mentality.”  I developed this when my children Scott and Debbie were growing up.  I noticed that whenever we were at a park or zoo I’d see parents yelling at their children for running around misbehaving and generally having a good time.  It seemed crazy to me to take your children to a place to have fun with them and then spend all your time yelling at them!  I decided what was called for was to get into a different frame of mind that I dubbed my “zoo mentality” when I wanted to have fun. Then if the kids started acting silly or chasing each other I’d be more inclined to join the fun myself.  I still use this technique occasionally when attending company meetings.

The way I see it, everything is on loan—the skills we have, the opportunities to use those skills, and the impact we are able to make in this life.  I’ve had good fortune in my life and I am thankful for it.  I have yet to meet the person who does not have some good fortunes in his or her life.  Even during dreadful times in your life and work, there is always a positive side if you take the time to look for it. Once you have this perspective it is difficult to have what I call “false pride,” in which you feel the world revolves around you.

Remember, no one says on their deathbed that they wish they would have worked harder. Most are inclined to wish they would have enjoyed life—and being with those they knew and loved—a lot more. So have a great week and don’t forget to laugh every day.

Take what you do seriously, but yourself lightly

I had a wonderful time recently, playing in a charity golf tournament with coworkers Steve Murphy, Randy Conley, and Brent Bystedt. It was really a lot of fun; we played a scramble.

One of the things it reminded me of—and this is so important to Colleen Barrett and Herb Kelleher at Southwest—is you really have fun in life and do well when you take what you do seriously, but yourself lightly. That was really evident as we were playing golf. We were trying to do the best we can, but we were laughing and enjoying ourselves. I don’t think there’s anybody who is more fun to be around than Steve Murphy. He’s one of our great consulting partners and he is absolutely fun. He takes what he does seriously but himself lightly, and I think that’s what endears him to clients. Continue reading

Don’t be a Passive Victim

There is a Positive Psychology course that Margie and I have been taking that is really interesting. We ran into a guy named Nathaniel Branden, who wrote about the six pillars of self-confidence. His big theme is nobody’s coming. If you are thinking about someone who is going to get you out of a situation, and you’re waiting for them to take all the action, the reality is that people can do things, but nobody is really coming. What are you going to do?  One thing that’s interesting is the difference between passive victims—people who are in a situation and immediately go to self-pity—“This is really tough.” Then they want to point fingers and blame other people. This leads to frustration, and eventually anger, and things kind of spiral down that way. This is the passive victim that somehow thinks their fate is in somebody else’s hands, versus the active agent who takes action—“Okay, this is tough, but what am I going to do? What can I do in my area? What ideas do I have?”  They are willing to take responsibility, which is being able to respond, and give suggestions that will help. They have a feeling of confidence—“Somehow we’re going to make it through this thing together.” This leads to hope and optimism. We all need to take action—what can we do to help?  Let’s work on responsibility. I have confidence and hope. What is it that makes some people be able to pull out of tough times? It’s all about resiliency. So remember—we’re all responsible somewhat for the condition we’re in. So be an active agent, not a passive victim. Life is a very special occasion. Don’t miss it with a lot of negative energy.