Recently I was on a Friday flight from Austin to Dallas, and I decided to stand by for an earlier flight. Standbys are usually a hopeless cause on Fridays, but this time it was a delightful service experience. I’ll spare the details since we’ve all had or heard about great experiences flying on Southwest Airlines — the friendly staff, the kooky songs over the PA, the jovial atmosphere, and the simplicity.

These days companies perfunctorily tout their service. In fact, staying with the airline theme, I’m sure we can all name an airline that delivers dependable service.  So with good service becoming more common, does great service really make a difference? Well, if given the choice among Southwest and another airline flying to the same place for the same fare, which would you choose?

Great service is about more than just service.  It’s about attitude, fundamental values, and teamwork. How do some companies achieve truly great service?

Culture – Culture is a team effort, but it starts at the top in the form of leadership by example. Define your culture by example — in the parking lot, in the cafeteria, in the boardroom, in good times, in tough times.  Having fun should be part of it.

Empowerment – Great leaders inspire their people by freeing them to do the right things, not by telling them what they can’t do. On my short flight to Dallas, the flight attendant was running out of time to serve snacks. So he enlisted passengers in the airplane version of a bucket brigade.  It was fun, funny, and unique.  And it’s not in any handbook.

Accountability – With opportunity comes responsibility. Great companies reward their people for doing a great job, and they also hold people accountable when they aren’t meeting expectations. This balance is essential for delivering truly great service and maintaining team spirit.

Who says great service really matters?  Customers do!