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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.

Explorer B
Colleen, You Rock! I work in Operations, and in 2006, I was working our last flight of the night from Phoenix. To protect the family, I’ll call them the “Jones‘”. Mrs. Jones, Baby “Courtney” and Grandma were deplaning and I could see that they had their hands full. I offered to take Grandma and Courtney to baggage claim in a wheelchair so that Grandma could hold Courtney, while Mrs. Jones carried the car seat and carry-ons. Once we got to baggage claim, I asked Amy Beth if she would assist them and she gladly accepted. Once I got back to Operations, I clocked out but stopped by to talk with Amy Beth. I found her outside on the curb waiting for Mrs. Jones to come around and pick up Grandma and Courtney. I played with Courtney while we were waiting, and you couldn’t help but fall in love with her, with her big blue eyes and a grin that seemed to be endless. Talking with Grandma, we learned that all of the family, except for Mr. Jones were moving here to be with Courtney’s twin sister, Brooke. There were complications with Brooke because she and Courtney shared the same umbilical cord during development. Brooke was being cared for at Riley’s Children’s hospital. Once the Jone’s left the airport, Amy Beth and I were talking, and decided that w e needed to do something for this family. I did some research and called the hospital to verify that Brooke was there. They wouldn’t give me specifics, but I had what I needed to know. We wrote a letter to Colleen, telling her of this family’s situation and that Mr. Jones stayed behind in Phoenix to work so he could provide for his family. I asked Colleen to consider giving Mr. Jones a Must-Ride ticket so he could fly here to be with his family, especially if things went from bad to worse. Within a couple of days later, I received a phone call from Colleen’s secretary, telling me that Colleen was going to send Mr. Jones his free ticket as well as a stuffed animal for Brooke. I was astounded and decided that Southwest couldn’t stop at just that. We sent out letter’s to the employees here at the station, asking for donations for the Jones‘. I immediately called Mrs. Jones and told her. She was astounded that Southwest was doing this for her family. After all of the donations, there was enough money to allow Mr. and Mrs. Jones a “ Date Night”, getting away from what they were having to deal with, providing them with tickets to a dinner theatre. The money that was left over was used to buy toys, books, SWA shirts and a gift for Grandma Jones. 1 It was an odd turn of events! When I called Mrs. Jones to tell her we were sending the Care Package, she was very appreciative of all the Southwest did for her family, but she informed me that Baby Brooke had not made it. She was in the process of packing up the family and heading back to Phoenix that very same day. I couldn’t help it, I got choked up talking with her, and quite frankly didn’t know what to say. I just want to say to Colleen, “thank you, on behalf of the thousands of employees, for keeping us focused on what really matters--OUR CUSTOMERS! 1 Colleen, you definitely made a huge impact on the “Jones’,” as well as to every employee here at our station, so Thank You for realizing that every customer is important and that Southwest really does have a heart!
Explorer A
LUVed your "first encounter" (with me) story on the Blog; but, you have one error in it--i.e. you should have said that YOU are MY mentor and inspiration. Seriously, my dear, that is how I feel--LUV you, xoxo Colleen
Explorer A
Coy--you are welcome--but you started threading that needle. xoxo Colleen
Explorer C
I'm a 19 year employee in Reservations and have the good fortune of meeting Colleen only twice in my career. The first was at a Culture Committee Party held at her home, I went as a guest. Colleen made me feel welcome and at home. Ever since that date I've been doing everything I can to make all of our new hires feel at ease. We started a Secret Pal program here at SRC giving them daily words of encouragement just anything to help our new hires feel welcome. The second time I meet Colleen was just this month when she came with Herb and Ellen. Once again she gave me this huge hug that made me feel like she was a close family member. I've never felt more at home in a work environment as I feel here at SRC. Thanks for always making me feel WELCOME..... Love  Debbie P