Southwest Airlines – building relationships with great customer service

Those of you who know me know that there’s no one in the world I’m closer to than Ed, the man who’s played my father figure for the better part of my life.  So when I got a call from my mom at 4:00 am letting me know that he had a heart attack, my first thought was, “this is going to be ok.  People have heart attacks all the time and walk out the next day.”  The first thing I did was to ask my mom if she was ok and if she wanted me to come home (LA).  She said yes, we got off the phone, I called my sister and let her know what happened and laid in bed for a few hours convincing myself that everything was going to be fine.

I must admit, I did have second thoughts about going to LA. I’ve been busy with work and other things going on in my life.  So once it got a little later, I made few phone calls to get a better sense of the situation.  After calling the hospital and my Uncle and hearing them both say, “You should really get out here as soon as you can.” my heart fell into my stomach and solidified my decision that what I needed to do was hop on a flight and see him as soon as I could. 

Luckily, Southwest Airlines was a Windy City Social event sponsor and as a result, I have flight vouchers which was able to use to go out to LA (thanks SWA!)  Not so lucky was the fact that SWA doesn’t have reserved seats, you have to call in 24 hours in advance to check in and get your seat number.  Since I booked my flight just a few hours before it left, my number was really bad.  Just feeling lucky that I was able to use the voucher and hop on the flight the same day, I didn’t even think about the number ‘till I got to the airport and was waiting for the flight.  The more I heard from home, the more upset I got and the more I just wanted to hop off the flight and run to the airport to see him for myself.   That’s when it hit me.  I was going to be at the back of the flight and it was going to take FOREVER to get off.  The thought at the time got me even more upset and I’m even getting teary eyed as I sit here writing about the experience.

So, I went up to the gate agents, explained the situation and asked if there was any way I could get a seat close to the front of the plane.  Before I could even finish asking, Kenny, one of the gate agents said, “Of course.” and he walked away towards the ticket counter.  Before I could even say, “thank you” he had secured me a seat by the front of the plane. I felt a HUGE sense of relief knowing that I could get off the flight as quickly as possible.

Thinking back, this would have only delayed me 15 minutes or so, but at the time, it seemed like a lifetime.   Huge shout out to Kenny for phenomenal customer service and to SWA for empowering your associates to do the right thing and build relationships with your customers.

Fast forward to later in the week.  My dad was well enough for me to go to vegas for the day for a conference I was scheduled to attend.  Since my original flight was from Chicago, I had to book a new one from LA to Vegas and back to LA.  Generally, I fly United – I have the most miles on UAL and it has just become habit.  BUT without thinking, this time I went to the SWA website and booked the flight. So with one really great customer experience, my purchase behavior had totally shifted. 

So here are the lessons I learned from SWA about this experience:


Be nice to everyone

When Kenny jumped into help me, he was doing so because he saw someone who was obviously really upset who needed help.  He didn’t know that SWA was a sponsor and that I have a fairly nice reach in the social media space.  I remember a few years ago when I was approached by a little company called Groupon.  They wanted to partner to get to my members.  I thought they had a cool idea, but didn’t want my brand associated with discounts, so I never got back to them.  Think they want to work with me now?  Lesson learned!

Know when to break the rules

It’s just that simple.  Technically, I should have waited to board when my number was called, but I doubt that anyone in front of me who knew my situation would have begrudged me the seat closest to being able to get to my step dad.  Kenny bending the rules a bit was completely appropriate for the situation.



Empower your people

There was a women standing next to Kenny and while he was jumping in to help, she was saying that they really couldn’t do anything and that it wasn’t fair to the other customers and that they would get mad.  The fact that Kenny felt empowered to make an accommodation in the situation says a lot about Southwest Airlines.  They have a corporate culture where people feel comfortable making decisions that bend the rules a bit.  This should be rewarded.


Give acknowledgement when it’s due

I’ve told this experience to about 20 people so far and am writing this post so that more people hear about it.   I’m also sending a note to my contact at SWA and will submit the comment to their website.  All too often, people only reach out with feedback when it’s negative. I’m a HUGE believer in giving a big, huge virtual high five when it’s well deserved.

Thanks Kenny, you did a great job and it made a big difference for me.

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One Response to “Southwest Airlines – building relationships with great customer service”

  1. Hi Hope!

    Wow, thanks for taking the time to share your experience on Southwest. I’ll hunt Kenny down and make sure he sees your kind words. I hope your step-father is doing better! Thanks again for sharing this post with us and the world!