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November 1, 2012

LUV Southwest Airlines? Me, too!

Heidi Strand

Lots of people have written about Southwest Airlines, so I’m afraid I’m not a trendsetter today. However, when a company continues its consistent customer experience throughout the “journey” … it’s worth mentioning and giving kudos.

My business partner, Brenda Haines, and I took our first-ever trip together. In ten years, we’ve never actually “vacationed” with one another, much less “conferenced” together (and I did just make that a verb). We had high expectations, or low, depending on who you asked. Tyler, our administrative rock star, even went so far as to ensure we had death insurance, in the unlikely eventuality Blue Door Consulting’s co-owners went down in a very non-Miracle on the Hudson-like way.

We arrived in comfy clothes at General Mitchell International Airport, laptops, smart phones and iPads in hand to find our gate, board our plane and traverse to the DMA2012 conference in Las Vegas. As you have already guessed … we were flying Southwest Airlines.

While we arrived at the prerequisite one-hour in advance to check in bags and print our boarding passes, we ran into a small snag. My boarding pass did not print and I was instructed to promenande to the gate for further instructions. Being the ever-follower of rules, I cavorted to the gate with Brenda in tow, wishing lunch and a glass of wine were on deck instead.

Arriving at the desk and showing my instructions, we were informed that our flight was slightly overbooked. “Would you mind taking a later flight?” the caring agent asked? “When does the next flight leave?” I countered. “Why in only an hour and a half,” she replied. “SCORE,” I said … we can have lunch (and wine)! Thinking I had already benefited from this scheduling oversight, the agent noted that both Brenda and I would be compensated with vouchers for our trouble. No – we didn’t ask for them. She simply offered and we were elated.

But, there’s more …

After a lovely Italian cuisine luncheon featuring a Chardonnay for moi and a Sauvignon Blanc for Brenda, we fell in line to board. However, those around us, clearly did not have wine for lunch. They were a tad testy because they had been scheduled to fly earlier that afternoon. Did that stop Southwest team members from being snarky and adding humor to the situation? NO! Instead, team members welcomed passengers and thanked them, but asked them not to destroy the plane in their frustrations. Brenda and I found the attendants’ humor highly successful as we saw the tension dissolve and relaxation occur.

Throughout the flight to Vegas, humor and excellent care were the common threads that wove together a packed plane of gamblingites and conference-goers eager to arrive.

I couldn’t help but think … this is clearly a fluke. People were upset and this was their way of nullfying the situation. Clever, but probably not likely for the ride home. And, as usual, I was wrong.

Our trip home started on time and was half full – the opposite of our first-leg situation. But, the humor and excellent care was consistent and memorable.

Southwest Airlines’ brand was one I was familiar with, but it’s wonderful to know that brands speak true. It’s at the “heart” of their organization as it should be with every company.

Want a brand like Southwest Airlines? Live it. Be consistent with it. Treat it with excellent care. And, some humor.