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Focus on Customer Service: Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines has a long-standing reputation as a different kind of airline – in a good way. Whether it’s the friendly flight attendants, low prices, or even the cheeky napkins (one of them says, “I’d be happy to hold your drink”), customers have come to expect a refreshing and fun experience aboard a Southwest plane. The carrier that caters to more than 100 million passengers annually lists customer service as its core mission:

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. (Source: Southwest.com

The dedication to service is working, as Southwest Airlines has bucked industry trends by delivering 42 consecutive years of profitability. It’s no wonder, then, that social media has emerged as a key channel for Southwest to deliver its superior customer service in a very public way.

Rob Hahn, Assistant Manager of Social Care at Southwest, says that the Social Care team has quickly evolved from a staff of four agents working 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday to a 24/7 operation with 35 agents handling nearly 2,000 direct mentions a day.

The team is closely aligned to the Marketing team as Southwest maintains a single Twitter handle for both marketing and service. “We wanted everything to mirror our brand and voice, whether it’s a customer service interaction or a marketing post,” says Rob.

Southwest has created a “recipe of how we engage with our customers” which includes four key steps: 1) Welcoming the customer; 2) Finding out what their problem is; 3) Researching their problem; and 4) Giving them a resolution.

“Our customers, they’re in the moment dealing with the situation, so they want an answer as soon as possible,” he says, adding that Southwest’s goal is a 10-to-15-minute response time. The airline carefully measures “Time to agent response” (how fast the customer receives an initial reply), “Conversation handle time” (how fast the customer receives a resolution) and customer reaction to those times (looking for commentary such as “Wow, that was fast!”). Adds Rob: “We review our responses routinely to see, ‘Are we giving the customer a quality response, are we resolving their situation?’”

Another unique aspect of Southwest is that its social media team is integrated with the Rapid Rewards loyalty team, so customers can even connect their Twitter handle to their frequent flier account.

Rob took time out ahead of a busy holiday season to talk with Dan Gingiss and Dan Moriarty for Episode 22 of the Focus on Customer Service Podcast. Here are some of the highlights and where to find them:

1:11 Rob’s background and how Southwest became his first “big boy job”

2:04 Rob’s role and how the social care team is structured

3:56  Rob talks about customer service inquiry quantities and response rate goals

5:20 How Southwest’s legendary “personality” translates into a social care voice

6:33 Southwest’s agent training program

8:37 How Rob talks about success/ROI in social care

10:06 How Southwest is integrating its mileage program with social media data

13:03 Southwest’s approach to response time and service inquiry triage

14:59 Why Southwest decided on a single Twitter handle, and how that affects the customer care team’s relationship with the marketing team

16:37 Rob talks about social media “ownership” at Southwest and the establishment of an integrated Social Business Hub

20:25 Rob’s advice to a company starting out in social care




If you’ve had a positive interaction with a brand in social media, please tweet us using the hashtag #FOCS and we’ll try to get that brand on a future episode of the podcast.

All episodes of the Focus on Customer Service Podcast can be found on iTunesStitcher, and SoundCloud.

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