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Southwest Airlines Gives Us Another Lesson in Customer Loyalty

Damaged LuggageAn Amazing Experience

My daughter came home from school to visit us over a recent holiday. She was flying on Southwest Airlines and checked a piece of luggage. When the suitcase showed up on the luggage carousel, we noticed the handle was damaged. Bummer! I’ve been through this before.

Not happy, I walked into the Southwest office. What I expected was a long line, followed by a less-than-enthusiastic employee, extensive paperwork to fill out, and then who knows how long it would take to get the luggage repaired. However, I was pleasantly surprised. After all, this was Southwest Airlines.

What I encountered was the opposite of what I expected. Only one person was ahead of me, and the Southwest employee had a great attitude. When it was finally my turn, just a minute or two later, I was given a choice. I could fill out some paperwork and arrange to have my luggage repaired, or Southwest would replace my luggage with a brand new piece; immediately – on the spot.

I wasn’t sure I heard the gentleman correctly. So, he took me into a room that was filled with all types of new luggage. He said to pick out the one that closely resembled my broken luggage. I did, and after a very short amount of paperwork to acknowledge the exchange, it was just a matter of transferring my daughter’s belongings into the new luggage before heading home.

This was an unexpected and amazing experience. What started out as a Moment of Misery™ turned into my favorite customer service experience: a Moment of Magic®. I’ve only had my luggage damaged twice in over thirty years of travel, and both times were far different than this recent hassle-free experience. I remember on both occasions, two somewhat apathetic employees (obviously not Southwest employees) who were just going through the motions of taking care of me as I filled out paperwork telling me who to take my luggage to and how to get reimbursed. Once again, Southwest Airlines figured it out.

There are at least a couple of lessons we can learn from this story:

First, Southwest Airlines has a reputation for being a friendly airline – perhaps the friendliest airline in the US. Competitive prices, free checked luggage, and friendly employees are what they are known for. It’s easy to be great when things go well. It’s when things don’t go well that can make or break a reputation. That’s when a good system has to be in place. That system, along with properly trained employees, can be the difference between losing and retaining a loyal customer.

Second, ideally, doing business with any company should be a hassle-free experience. Unfortunately, the airlines are subject to a number of potential problems, some of which are out of their control, such as weather or heavy air-traffic. But, some problems are in their control. In the case of damaged luggage, Southwest Airlines stepped up and took ownership of the problem. They know it’s going to happen, so as part of their system, they created the most customer-focused solution they could come up with.

I’ve written and talked about this before. Southwest Airlines may not be the airline for everyone, and they admit this. Some may not like their numbered boarding pass system that doesn’t allow for reserved seats. Some may not like that they don’t have meal service. But, Southwest is very clear about what they offer. It’s their brand promise. Simply put, the Southwest Airlines mission “is dedication to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit.” They typically deliver on that promise. That’s what’s earned them intensely loyal customers. Nobody is perfect, but if more companies were as customer-focused as Southwest Airlines, I think we, as customers, would all be happier.

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, keynote speaker and New York Times bestselling business author. For information contact or For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs go to Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

(Copyright © MMXVI, Shep Hyken)

  1. Baggage claim employee has to be one of the hardest and most thankless jobs in customer service. Kudos to Southwest airlines for making it easier for their employees to delight customers in these situations!

  2. My reaction to this excellent story is that the point is not that an unpleasant incident was handled in a positive way one time. After all, that can happen. The point is that the response is systemic – it’s handled like this EVERY time. It’s “how we do business” – it’s far more than a one-time lucky shot.

    • Hi Richard – Agree. The best companies have a system in place on how to deal with the “Moments of Misery™” that pop up on a somewhat regular basis – like damaged luggage.

  3. Great story. If a company wants to maintain a good reputation and at the same time gain and keep loyal customers, it is imperative they have a plan in place to fix failures that are in their control and to also anticipate potential issues (like in this case with the broken luggage). However having a plan/solution will only work, as you mentioned, if you have happy, trained, dedicated employees to carry out that great customer experience. Happy employees means happy customers!

    • 100% agree. The best companies aren’t perfect. The best companies have a system in place. The “perfect” system includes hiring and training the right employees

  4. Onyinyechi Oboho says:

    The best customer service is when the company states their services in a way that will be good for the customers and easy for the service to be delivered

  5. The bigger message is this: Southwest has a brand promise that their employees deliver on EVERY DAY. It’s part of their culture and why they are so successful. They deliver on the WHY they get up every morning and put on that Southwest ‘uniform’ which goes well beyond the HOW or the WHAT.

    • Agree! It’s the consistency of the experience, and the consistency of the employees’ attitudes that help make SWA one of the most admired airlines in the industry.

  6. David Gravelle says:

    Generally, SWA does a great job, so when someone gives crap customer service(which is rare), they stick out like a sore thumb. I asked a person in luggage who was awful if I could have someone who had gone through SWA training.

    • Yes, sometimes they miss in their hiring process and get someone that just doesn’t get “it.” I wonder if they will still be working there next year?

  7. Southwest clearly knows which customer touch points are the most important to their customers and they offer a superior experience to meet those points where they can have control and impact. Another nice example of a provider doing more than just providing the baseline service level.

  8. Nicely written article…I’ve been flying Southwest for a long time now and they’ve always exceeded my expectations…their rates are usually favorable and my flights have been just that – hassle-free – as author has stated. The lack of meals has been a challenge sometimes but not a big deal at all:)

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