RENO, Nev. — Howard Putnam, former CEO of Southwest and Braniff Airlines, discussed how student transporters can cultivate righteous attitudes for excellent customer service during a keynote at STN EXPO.
Putnam said exemplary customer service hinges on attracting dedicated attitudes that result in high productivity as well as a fun place to work.
One key to “Hiring the Right Attitude to Gain Altitude,” the title of Putnam’s July 11 talk, is first developing an organizational brand that others trust. “Very few people get fired from Southwest because the brand is there. People respect the brand,” he said.
One would then inquire: “How could a company such as Southwest use its brand to improve customer service?” Putnam detailed that it begins with establishing a vision.
Putnam reflected on his career being recruited from United Airlines to lead the young Southwest Airlines in 1978. He described to attendees how the idea for Southwest began with Rollin King's sketch of a triangle on the back of a cocktail napkin as he met with his attorney Herb Kelleher. Despite just shutting down a failing charter plane business, King envisioned a low-cost airline focused on flying business people between Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.
Putnam said that every organization must address the “why” vs. the “what” during any initial planning process, and that includes employee relations.
“Once you have gotten the ‘why’ figured out, then it should come naturally how you would answer the ‘how,’,” Putnam stated.
A clear vision of any project makes it that much more successful, said Putnam. He listed nine factors that make for a strong vision: Supportive culture; recognition; strong relations with vendors; trust and rapport; plan layout; communication; clear checklists; challenge the team; and having fun.
These values reinforce a strong, positive attitude that leaves an impression on others. Putnam then shared a memory that befitted his concept.
Putnam noticed Edward Carlson, former executive vice president of United Airlines, kept a notepad of customer feedback. Carlson collected notepads by the mounds and hand-delivered comments to every VP all in the name of refining the company’s customer service.
Putnam said he and other staff were impressed by Carlson’s attitude, which resulted in a collective dedication to customer needs.
It’s the right attitude that permeates workplaces and influences the mindset of team members as well as customers, Putnam said. He also shared its attitude can lead to the rise or fall of any company. For instance, Putnam said a CEO’s inflated ego can hamper communication among team members and pollute a work environment with toxic culture.
As Putnam puts it having quoted Carlson’s saying: “Nobody sings solo; it’s a team effort.”