How Southwest Airlines uses employee branding to gain a competitive advantage.
Employee branding is the process in which employees internalize the brand image and project the image to customers, employees, and other constituents. Southwest Airlines’ brand image is based on:
- On-time flights
- Low fares
- Friendly service
This was demonstrated for me first hand on a recent flight from Dallas to Los Angeles with a stopover in Albuquerque.
The departure was delayed and further exacerbated by an equipment change to an aircraft with reduced seating. The gate agent explained the situation and offered a $300 voucher for passengers interested in taking a later flight. There were several travelers that took advantage of the offer and boarding proceeded.
Upon arrival in Albuquerque, the ground crew, baggage handlers, pilots, and cabin staff made up for lost time by turning the plane in less than 20 minutes.
During the final leg of the flight we were all invited to sing Happy Birthday to an 88-year-old woman who donned a crown of peanut bags woven together with drink stir sticks by the flight attendant.
Upon arrival, I took the time to survey the faces of departing passengers and found a smiling group heading towards baggage claim.
How did Southwest turn a delayed flight, loaded to the max with a stopover, into a positive customer experience that landed on time?
Southwest Airlines’ first priority is the covenant between the company and the employee, as evident in their mission statement:
The Mission of Southwest Airlines
The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.
To Our Employees
We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth. Creativity and innovation are encouraged for improving the effectiveness of Southwest Airlines. Above all, Employees will be provided the same concern, respect, and caring attitude within the organization that they are expected to share externally with every Southwest Customer.
Southwest Airlines employees internalize this mission statement and extend the brand image to the minds of Southwest’s customers. This is accomplished by clearly articulating Southwest’s mission, values, and brand image. It is supported through messages from:
- Human resources
- Employee communications
- Culture/coworker influence
- Leadership/Management actions
- Advertising – owned, earned and bought
- Social media listening and response
- Customer feedback
Southwest’s competitive advantage in the airline industry is based on its covenant with its employees. This is reflected in the way it manages its messaging systems to reflect brand image, deliver on the mission statement, and reward brand ambassadors.