The dark underbelly of how an industry feels about its customers is often revealed behind the scenes, when colleagues talk to one another. How customers are described and referenced show how much employees and the company honors customers.
In the airline business, there’s a shorthand language that reduces customers to inanimate objects, not people desiring service. For example, a customer requesting a cup of coffee is reduced to “PAX in 12B wants a coffee.” When WestJet began their airline, they decided to nix the lingo and make passengers human again. They wanted “out of the cockpit thinking” to set themselves apart.
WestJet knew that to win market share, they would have to compete beyond operational efficiency. They would need to compete with their humanity and service. WestJet began by throwing out some bad industry habits. Instead of looking at passengers as walking dollar signs—simply a means to a profit— WestJet decided to treat passengers as valued guests. “Employees” don’t exist at WestJet. They are all “WestJetters,” a community of people on a common mission. And WestJet executives? Well, they’re “Big Shots.” Hard to get a big head with a moniker like that. According to Don Bell, executive vice president and cofounder of what is now Canada’s number two airline, “I think the simplest way to put it is we applied some very commonsense approaches to piggyback on human nature. We created an environment that embraced people and put people first.”
WestJet decided to grow by offering passengers a new way of flying: By walking away from the old habits that defined working in the airline industry, and then focusing that culture on serving and honoring passengers, WestJet is considered a different kind of airline, one that customers love. Their idea, that the way to grow was through first changing “WestJetters’” mind-sets about their jobs, about themselves, and about customers was rewarded with business growth. In the fourth quarter of 2010, the company posted a 138 percent increase in its profits driven by increased volumes. In 2011, they were named a “Customer Service Champion” by J.D. Powers.
Make Customers the Reason for the Business
- Do you need an attitude adjustment for how your think about and feel about customers behind the scenes?
- How hard would it be for you to remove some of the lingo and attitudes that have built up over years in your industry?
Start with your acronyms and see how many of them have to do with customers. That will give you a quick glimpse into the journey ahead.