A major airline says there's something it values more than its customers, and there's a good reason why


southwest airlines

Stephen M. Keller/Southwest Airlines promo

Every employee matters at Southwest.

At Southwest Airlines, employees come first.


Yes, you read that right: The airline puts employee happiness above customer satisfaction.

The approach might seem unconventional - but it makes perfect sense and seems to be working just fine for the Dallas-based airline that employs about 47,000 people and serves more than 100 million customers annually.

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In 2013, Southwest was named No. 1 in customer satisfaction by the US Department of Transportation; earned the No. 2 spot on Consumer Reports' Airline Customer Satisfaction Survey; and ranked second on Business Insider's list of the best airlines in the US.

The 44-year-old airline is known for its friendly (and often witty) flight attendants, as well as its top-notch customer service. This stems from its employees-first mantra, which plays out in a trickle-down effect.


In order of importance, Southwest ranks employees first, customers second, and shareholders third. "We believe that if we treat our employees right, they will treat our customers right, and in turn that results in increased business and profits that make everyone happy," the airline explains in a blog post about its company culture.

southwest airlines

LM Otero/AP

Southwest's colorful jets fit right in with their fun-loving company culture.

By creating a culture that's fun and inclusive, with core values that remind all employees to enjoy their work and not take themselves too seriously, Southwest motivates employees to take pride in what they do, which often translates to going the extra mile for customers.

Southwest also seeks out employees with proactive attitudes, making every team member feel responsible for the success of their colleagues, according to Forbes. This team-based environment pushes employees to always do their best work - including getting planes from the gate into the air at record speed - which drives customer satisfaction and loyalty.

That isn't to say Southwest doesn't directly look out for their customers. When employees are taught to "live the Southwest way," the airline encourages them to "put others first" and "demonstrate proactive customer service." In other words - the airline might put employees first, but they want employees to put customers first.

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