That’s a tough question to answer.  Of course, it’s a lot of things.  It’s how you treat your customers, how you treat your staff, whether you make your community a better place to live, whether you’re profitable, etc.  But, is there one quality, more than any other, that best defines an “excellent” company?

Let’s look at Southwest Airlines (SWA). SWA has been the most consistently profitable airline for the past decade, it has some of the happiest employees anywhere, and passengers always rate them highly. 

Do they have the best airline food? No, they sure don’t.  It’s mostly just peanuts and chips, and you have to pay for your adult beverages.

Are they by far the most punctual airline in the sky? No, they’re not.  The 15 domestic US airlines just set a record for punctuality, and they are all doing very well in this area.  The major on-time fluctuations are caused more by the destination and arrival cities, than they are by the airline carrier itself.

Do they have the lowest fares? They are reasonable, but not the lowest.  I just checked the fares from San Diego to Denver, and if you can stomach a non-refundable fare, then SWA was lowest, otherwise Frontier and United had them beaten by a mile.

So what is it?  What makes Southwest Airlines so excellent?  It’s CONSISTENCY. You know exactly what you’re going to get, every time you use them.  Your experience never changes.  Granted, it doesn’t usually get any better than it always is, but it’s already at a pretty high level.  The point is that it never gets much worse. 

SWA is a “B+” airline and it is ALMOST ALWAYS a B+.  It is seldom a “B” and almost never a “B-“.  There are many airlines out there who are an “A” some of the time and a “B” some of the time.  It takes SWA infinitely more skill to be a “B+” all the time, than it takes another airline to be an “A” three days of the week, and a “B” the rest of the time.

Admit it.  You occasionally eat fast food, just like the rest of us.  What makes fast food enjoyable?  It’s because within limits, you know exactly what you’re going to get every time.  When you eat at the McDonald’s in Chicago, you’re going to get almost exactly the same food that you get in San Diego.

These companies have well-conceived standards that are tailored to their ideal audience, and they have implemented automated systems and processes, backed up by rigid training, that enforce those standards.  So, their products are as consistent as it is possible for them to be.

Your customers want to have exactly the same experience with you that they did the last time that they purchased, and they don’t need it to be perfect.  B+ is good enough, but only if you do it every single time.  If you can do “A-“ every single time, then please write a management book and send me a copy.

Consistency – that’s my idea of excellence.

About the Author
Doug Deane is President of DSD Business Systems, an international provider of on-demand (cloud) and on-premises ERP and CRM software, specializing in wholesale distribution, manufacturing, warehouse management, inventory, business intelligence and eCommerce software.  DSD offers Sage 100 (formerly MAS 90), Sage 300 (formerly Accpac), Sage 500 (formerly MAS 500), NetSuite, Sage FAS, Sage HRMS (formerly Abra), Sage CRM, Sage SalesLogix, Extended Solutions, and Custom Programming.

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