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Southwest Airlines Community

2011 Customer Service Kickoff

Explorer C

What sets us apart from everyone else?  It's our legendary Customer Service, and we are proud to call it our own invention. 

Gary Kelly:  Through the years, Southwest Airlines has evolved as our industry and the needs of the traveling public have changed.  One constant has been Your commitment to delivering outstanding Customer Service.  While other airlines have tried to match our fares and route maps, what they cannot duplicate is the personal service you provide each and every day.  As we celebrate our 40th anniversary, I honor you and your commitment to winning Customers with your exemplary Customer Service.


Customer Service was the key topic of discussion at the recent Customer Service Kickoff summit.  Customer Service Contact Employees from all around the system were there to hear several of our Leaders guide us into 2011.  Colleen Barrett, our President Emeritus, was one of the first to speak and as I listened to the most inspiring person in my history with Southwest, a lot of her message was just so simple, down to earth, and plain ole Southwest Hospitality.  "Let’s go back," she said, "to when you began with Southwest Airlines.  What was your first day like?"  Well mine was 28 years ago, and I remember being so excited to wear a uniform instead of having to buy clothes (even if it was hot pants), having a good salary, being able to offer flying free to my family and myself, and health benefits.  Once I arrived at work though, I had an eye-opening experience.  Customer Service Agents (Ticket Agents back in 82) were not just selling tickets, making reservations, and checking flights.  They were pushing Customers to the gates in wheelchairs, talking to Customers as though they were longtime friends, and helping run with bags to the gates for Mothers with babies, bags, strollers, and car seats.  My most important training of that day was how to administer Customer Service.  This wasn’t traditional Customer Service; it was extraordinary Customer Service.  With this in mind, I listened as Colleen guided this group through revitalizing Customer Service.  She informed us that Southwest hired FUN, Dedicated, and Spirited Employees.  This is so true, and our Southwest Hospitality has grown into other cities across the country. It is not unusual to have someone in Albany say, “Thanks for flying Southwest.”  It is not unusual to see people in Baggage Service Offices singing about your lost bag, to bring a smile to a bad situation.  It is not unusual to see a Chicago Ramp Agent carry a Customer’s bag to their car when it is a blizzard outside.


The message from Colleen that I heard that day is that Customer Service is not just for External Customers but also for our Internal Customers; there is not a difference between internal and external expectations.  We need to learn to use common sense and good judgment when we make decisions.  There can’t be a rule for every situation, and sometimes fair does not mean equal.   It means you need to Do the Right Thing.  Lead by example, this is not just for Leaders but for us all to make sure that what you do is what you would want others to repeat.  When you make a commitment to a Customer, keep that promise.  In fact, underpromise and overdeliver; that means if you tell the Customer that you will contact him or her in two weeks, then do one better, and contact them in one week.  Keeping our Customers informed with a phone call doesn’t cost that much. Be careful of your body language and facial expressions as these can be read by our Customers and make a statement without a word being spoken.


Okay, we all do these things; yes that is true.  We have not lost providing good Customer Service; however, we must nurture and keep it watered to ensure it grows.  It is our legacy, and it is what sets us apart from the other airlines, as we have to keep them guessing what makes us so good.  They can compete with our fares and routes, but they can’t do what we do on a daily basis, provide great Customer Service.  Everyday, we hear stories about our Employees going above and beyond for our Customers.   We are a compassionate and heartfelt Company.  That quality has been passed down from Colleen and embraced by us all.  We don’t just come to work and punch a time clock, and return home after it is over.  We build houses for Habitat for Humanity.  We cook breakfast and dinners for the Ronald McDonald House.  We give praise to those who work beside us every day.  We are about just being human and helping each other as humans. The little things are important as Linda Rutherford, VP of Communication and Strategic Outreach stated, and we bring life and fun back into the work force.  

The message and the challenge at the Customer Service Kickoff that rang out was for each of us to embrace, recognize, and live Customer Service.