Why does it seem like some companies just get it, while their competitors don't?

I still don't understand how Nordstrom continues to offer great customer service and a no-questions-asked policy, while 100 yards away at Macy's in the Westfield Southcenter Mall in Tukwila, WA, the staff continues to be inattentive, unconcerned and grill you under hot klieg lights with dental drills when you want to return a pair of socks.

Southwest Airlines is a lot like Nordstrom and pretty much every other airline is like Macy's. I received yet another email from a Friend-of-Steve this week with a terrific WOW story; this one about Southwest Air.

Recently flying Southwest, Timothy Ruiz, Senior Applications Manager for Pall AeroPower Corporation, sat on a runway for quite a while waiting for weather to clear. The next day he received this email:

Greetings from Southwest Airlines:                          
I’m sorry your flight waited (and waited) on the taxiway for departure clearance on July 12 (and that the delay stretched into the evening).  Unfortunately, the thunderstorms in the Mid-Atlantic area were unrelenting, which limited the viable air traffic routes to/from Philadelphia (the effect is similar to when a couple of lanes on a highway are closed during rush hour).  As a result of these conditions, we were unable to provide you with timely service—thank you for your patience with us and the weather.
Though we may not be able to control Mother Nature, we do have some say in the way we show our appreciation of your valued patronage.  In this regard, I am sending a
LUV Voucher* that we invite you to apply toward a future Southwest reservation—I hope this gesture will be accepted as our acknowledgement of the overall frustrations created by this situation.  You can be sure that we are looking forward to seeing you in the days ahead.

Melissa Chalupa 

The letter was a great touch by Melissa and SWA, but I was curious what the "LUV Voucher" would be and asked Timothy to let me know. Three days later he received the voucher — a $100 credit towards a future flight. As Timothy said, "That's no small potatoes."

While other airlines continue to rely on their Frequent Prisoner programs to keep us locked in, Southwest Airlines clearly treated Timothy like a valuable customer. Think he'll fly SWA again? Oh yeah. Has he probably shared this story with others besides me? Undoubtedly. I repeat my recent mantra regarding generating referrals and word-of-mouth:

What's WORTH Talking About, GETS Talked About

What have YOU done lately to get talked about?