The Power of a Phenomenal Culture and Customer Service that WOWs

Feb 19, 2013 2:40:27 PM

“Our cultures and structures are very similar. It’s like we are Keller Williams with wings.”


The associates attending The Southwest Airlines sessions today may have wondered if they were accidentally in session about the Keller Williams culture. In fact, the parallels between the top domestic airline and the now #1 real estate company in America in agent count were so frequent one might have wondered if Gary Keller and Gary Kelly were the same person! The session was presented by Chris Robbins. As Southwest’s Senior Manager of Operations Training Robbins is responsible for the cultural and organizational structures that have made Southwest airlines a household name.

Over the course of the two breakouts, there was no mistaking the similarities in the two companies’ approach to being number one. Both Southwest Airlines and Keller Williams Realty have a unique set of values and systems that serve to always put the interests of their people first.

At Keller Williams Realty the mission statement is: “To build careers worth having, businesses worth owning and lives worth living.”

And Southwest? “The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedicated to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit.”

Robbins noted that every decision is held up against this statement, one that does not even mention anything financial or airplanes. Sound familiar Keller Williams? Here are a few more of the core values that continually drive the success at Southwest.

Form a Cohesive Leadership Team, and then:

Build and maintain trust.

  • A leader has to have vulnerability for this; they need to show that they are also human, which then gives the employees permission to also be human.
  • People are more reasonable than we believe. Most people just want someone that cares about them. You have to build and maintain trust on your team.

Force healthy conflict.

  • You want that sweet spot where you can have the uncomfortable conversations without things blowing up – it’s not personal, it’s healthy and how you honestly address and solve the issues.

Gain commitment to shared goals.

  • It is OK to disagree with a decision and still commit. This is like the example of parenting – you may have the dialog behind closed doors where you disagree but when you come out, you better be on the same page, presenting a united front.
  • This happens in the workplace all the time – employees know they can go to “mom” for one thing and “pop” for a different answer.

Embrace accountability.

  • When you need to address a struggling employee, how do you go about it? Do you approach with judgment or do you approach with the heart of a coach? You have to consider, “have I not set them up for success?” and see how you can help them now. You have to have the heart of a coach.

Focus on results.

  • It’s that mindset of, “I am not going to be successful unless everyone is successful. We are in this together.” Even if the customer service team has rocked it today, if the bag guys had an awful day, we didn’t succeed.

Create Clarity of the Company, and ask:

Why do we exist?

  • Southwest Airlines exists to connect people with what’s important in their lives with friendly, reliable service. That statement paired with their mission statement drives everything they do. “It’s much like what Keller Williams Realty is about” said Robbins “You are helping people with the biggest investment of their lives; where they will spend their days with their families.”

How do we behave?

  • “We’re talking culture here. How do we treat each other? Do we come from a place of curiosity and coaching? We don’t want you to be a brick on the airplane, at the desk, on the ramp. We want you to be you. We want you to succeed and become the best you can with us.”

What do we do?

  • “We aspire to be the world’s most flown, most profitable, and most loved airline. I heard you all are working towards something similar – largest and most profitable real estate company in the world?”

How will we succeed?

  • “These are the systems you have in place to succeed through your people.”

What is important right now?

  • “This is approaching each day asking what the most critical thing for that day is. I hear this is covered a lot in Gary Keller’s new book, The ONE Thing. I’ve been given a copy and I’m really looking forward to reading it!”

Reinforce clarity on Systems and People

  • You’ve got to have the systems in place to reinforce the clarity and culture you’ve set.
  • Hire for attitude and hire tough. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, if you don’t fit the culture, we don’t want you.
  • Empower everyone through training. Training is the lifeblood of any organization.
  • Set personal and team goals, but don’t over commit – put your heart into focusing on one or two.
  • Remove those who don’t fit. Train and coach poor performers who do. We like to refer to the folks who need to go as “being promoted to customer status.”
  • Compensate and reward based on the values and goals of the organization. Like Keller Williams, we were the first airline to do profit sharing and we match every dollar up to 10 percent for our people’s 401(k)s.

Southwest Airlines’ Core Value and Expectations

“We all know the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. Well, we’ve adjusted it a bit and our golden rule is ‘we serve others the way we want to be served.’ Great customer service isn't complicated. Go above and beyond. Put LOVE into serving. Treat them as you want to be treated.