CMO, Southwest Airlines

Kevin Krone

What does your brand stand for, and how does it deliver on that promise every day?
We put people first. That means two sets of people: Our employees and our customers. Ultimately, if that relationship is successful, our shareholders win as well.

We empower employees to make decisions. We let them use their judgment and act on situations where they can improve customer experience. That gives them satisfaction and the desire to deliver better service. In addition, our no bag fee policy is a great example of treating customers how we would want to be treated.

What role does simplicity play in delivering on that promise?
It’s critical to us for a couple of reasons. If you add complexity in terms of rules and regulations for employees, it makes them less productive and friendly—and that impacts the customer experience. As an operator, we want to be simple as possible. Complexity adds cost, which affects our ability to operate.
What are the challenges creating simple experiences for customers?
People are always trying to find ways to do new things creatively. As you get pulled into doing that, it’s easy to think of solutions that ultimately can add more clutter or complexity. It’s important to stay focused.
How do you strive to conquer complexity within your own company?
We try to look at things through our customers’ eyes. The customer doesn’t have that intimate knowledge about our business, so when we’re adjusting an existing policy, we put ourselves in the customers’ shoes and try to understand how it will be perceived by them.
What benefits has your company experienced from simplifying?
It has allowed us to operate a complex business with extreme precision and reliability. That helps the company be more efficient with our assets, and do what we say we will.
Why do you think it is so difficult for the majority of companies to deliver simple experiences?
People get so close to their own work, it’s hard to look out and with a fresh set of eyes. People also fail to just think of the customer. We regularly talk to small groups of customers, not as focus group, but just to here what they think of the experience and listen to them, and that helps guide us.
How do you lead as a simplifier?
The job of any leader is to look for opportunities to simplify what’s happening in the department. Lots of times I have to say no to great ideas that might bog the team and distract us from our task. It’s prioritization and making tough calls. It’s easy to be complex, and hard to be simple.
What’s the most recent, simple customer experience you’ve had personally?
There’s a restaurant here in Dallas called Babe’s that serves only fried chicken and chicken fried steak. It’s very limited menu, but popular because they do those two things really well.
What does “simplicity” mean to you?
It means that things are straightforward and transparent, and that the customer is treated how he or she wants to be treated.