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First Encounter with Colleen

Adventurer C

Our salute to Colleen continues 

My most impactful encounter with Colleen was also one of my first.

I was relatively new to Southwest and very green, so the prospect of getting to work directly with Colleen was extremely exciting (not to mention nerve wracking). The Dallas Morning News was writing a feature on her and needed a photo to accompany the story. I was the lucky “chosen one,” and I was determined to pull it off without a hitch.

On the day of the photo shoot, it was about 95 degrees outside with 100% humidity. If you know anything about Colleen, it’s that she hates being hot. In fact, the second-floor hallway that houses her office is by far the coldest part of our Headquarters building.

The photographer thought it would be “awesome” to get some shots of Colleen by a plane out at the Maintenance hangar. So, sometime around mid-afternoon, the photographer arrived, and we walked out on the tarmac to meet Colleen. All three of us were already sweating profusely, and I started to panic.

My first instinct was to get Colleen something cold to drink so I darted up to the hangar to find someone who could get me a Coke. By the time I made it back, Colleen was standing precariously in the cargo hold of the plane, posing for the photographer on the ground. The photographer, however, was not taking any pictures. Instead, she was waiting for the “perfect moment” when a Southwest plane would land on the Love Field runway behind the hangar.

If it was 95-degrees on the tarmac, it had to be 120 or more in the belly of the plane. My panic level rose.

Me: “We really need to speed this up…it’s hot out here and I need to get Colleen inside.”
Photographer: “I really want a shot of a plane landing behind her…do you know when that will be?”

So we stood there, peering up at the blazing hot sun waiting for a Southwest plane to approach. When we finally spotted one in the distance, the photographer positioned herself to get the shot.


I took a deep sigh of relief. It was over.

Photographer: “The plane came in too fast…any chance you can radio someone to ask them to slow down the next one?”
Me (inside my head): You have got to be freaking kidding me.

I assured the photographer, in a rather harsh tone, that, no, we cannot slow the plane on approach for landing and that she would have to make due with what she had.

She insisted on another shot, and I stood there feeling helpless…pacing back and forth, panic level at an all time high.

As we left the shoot, I apologized to Colleen for the disastrous photo shoot.  Colleen didn’t say anything.

A couple days later, my then-VP, Ginger, called me to her office. I went in, and she gently shut the door behind me.

Ginger: “Colleen told me about the photo shoot the other day.”
Me: “I KNOW. It was awful. The photographer was awful.”
Ginger: “Colleen was really disappointed in how you handled the situation.”

I went numb. What? I was trying to protect and take care of her. I got her a Coke. I sped things along. Why was she disappointed in me?

Ginger: “Angela, the photographer was your Customer. She was there to do a job, and you and Colleen were there to help her.”

I sat there in stunned silence. Then I burst into tears.

She was right. I was so interested in taking care of Colleen that I neglected to do my job – which was taking care of the photographer, my Customer. Colleen wasn’t concerned about herself; she was concerned about meeting the needs of that photographer and giving her a good experience.

Since that day over six years ago, I have had the good fortune of working with Colleen many times but that first one left a lasting mark on me. That was the day I learned the true definition of Customer Service.

Thank you, Colleen, for teaching me a life lesson and showing me that Positively Outrageous Service is about “walking the walk.” You are, and always will be, my mentor and inspiration.