Tuesday, 26 October 2021
Client care from . . . Southwest Airlines? Tyler Nix/Unsplash

Client care from . . . Southwest Airlines?

When it comes to airlines, I have my favorites. When my travel coordinator lists a bunch of possible flights to get me from Nashville to wherever, she knows my pecking order.

Southwest Airlines comes first. I’ll drive an extra hour or two because I’d rather be on Southwest than to take an airline which flies closer to my final destination. But why?

For one, my odds of getting somewhere on time are greater. Even if there is a problem with the plane, they get another one ready to go more quickly, and since they only use one type of jet, there’s no problem finding the “right” plane.

But there’s more. 

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On Southwest, the atmosphere is more laid back. I feel like the flight attendants, pilots and gate agents are more like buddies instead of “official” representatives of the airline. There is no stuffiness at Southwest. I’m comfortable chatting with gate agents, asking questions and kidding around with any of them. 

Case in point? Boarding a Southwest flight, I heard the flight attendant ask the pilot, “Would you like some coffee?”

“No thanks,” the pilot deadpanned. “I’m jittery enough already!” The first couple of rows broke out in laughter.

It’s not that other airlines are bad. They’re not. But there is something about Southwest which makes me feel at home anytime I fly.

Years ago, I read a book about Southwest (Nuts!), by two writers intent on figuring out what makes Southwest tick. They found a secret recipe which makes the airline a consistent #1 in customer satisfaction. Want to know what it is? Sssshhhh. Here goes . . .

“The customer comes second.” That’s it. That’s the fancy recipe.

Don’t misunderstand. Southwest’s customers are treated well. I’m proof. But instead of saying things like, “The customer is always right” or “Customers are our highest priority,” Southwest is decidedly different.

To the Southwest leadership team, employees come first. They believe if they treat their employees amazingly well, those employees will buy into the culture and treat their customers just as well.

Read their flight magazine (when it comes back after COVID) and you’ll always find a story of an employee going the extra mile, or an insight into what makes a particular employee so special to the team. Southwest is always highlighting its people.

Before a flight from Oklahoma City to Chicago, I followed a pilot and his wife as they walked together toward the gate area, holding hands. I hadn’t seen that before.

As they reached the gate, well-wishers were everywhere with signs and presents. It was a group of employees and friends of the pilot and his wife, celebrating his final flight before retirement. 

When we arrived in Chicago, water cannons sprayed the plane in celebration. Balloons were everywhere. 

I asked myself, what if an organization celebrated every outgoing employee with such a celebration? Do we think it would make a difference? Darned right it would.

This is what it means to put employees first. And it works.

Who is first?

Southwest’s success is a lesson to each of us in the pregnancy help community. As Christians, it’s easy to think we must put our clients first. After all, our clients are the ones who need help. Not to mention, many are carrying precious gifts from God who should be honored and protected.

But Jesus told us something we must remember, too. He said that if we are to be known for our faith, we must love . . . one another.

As Christian ministries then, it is important we love one another first. This means making sure our staff is well taken care of, celebrated, nurtured, supported and encouraged as often as we can. 

Tweet This: Jesus said that if we are to be known for our faith, we must love one another. This means making sure our staff is well taken care of.

This may seem backward to some, but this may even mean not launching a new initiative until our staff is paid in a worthy manner. If our people are underpaid, what is the message we send when we invest money in other areas? It’s a fair question.

We throw baby showers for clients. Do we make sure and give our staff the same celebrations? Just a thought.

Here’s to the servants

As individuals, we are here to serve others. We think of others as more important than ourselves. No doubt about it.

But as organizations, when we take care of our staff first, we create an atmosphere where our employees can be more joyful as they serve those we see. 

A staff member who isn’t thinking about how to pay the bills is freer to focus on the needs of her client. An employee who knows she or he is highly valued in a personal way is more likely to highly value the client or patient.

When we celebrate our servants, then, we encourage each of them to serve even more, even better.

There’s an old saying, reflecting upon why some of us struggle with others; “Hurt people hurt people,” we are told.

But the opposite is also true. 

“Healed people heal people.” 

When we are healed by the joy of coming to work each day, we in turn are healers for others. 

Southwest may not be a Christian airline, but they certainly know something about how we as people operate.

Putting “Employees First” into practice

I write this just days before Heartbeat International’s 50th Anniversary Conference in Columbus. 

For Heartbeat staff, it is one of the most challenging weeks of the year. Days begin before seven and end after 10 at night. In between, many staff are moving almost every minute with short breaks for meals.

But surprisingly, it is one of the most invigorating and powerful weeks of the year, too. 

Conference week is full of encouragement, celebration and joy. We wouldn’t miss it for the world. 

The reason of course, is that at Heartbeat, from Board Chair Peggy Hartshorn to President Jor-El Godsey and our entire leadership team, each staff member is celebrated and valued.

Employees first. Clients second. It’s a simple recipe, but it certainly makes each day taste great for our team . . . and for those we serve.

Kirk Walden

Kirk Walden is a senior writer with Pregnancy Help News, an Advancement Specialist with Heartbeat International and author of The Wall. For banquet speaking engagements, contact Gloria Leyda at Ambassador Speakers Bureau. His new Faith Revolution Podcast is online at www.kirkwalden.com

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