On July 21, 2018, Southwest Airlines Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer, Linda Rutherford, responded to a technology outage stating,
“I want to start off by once again apologizing to our Customers and reiterating that your experience throughout the past 24 hours is not the service you should expect from Southwest Airlines.”
Later that day, Southwest Airlines decided to forego the press release and take customers into the heart of the machine, live streaming updates on booking information, reasons behind the outage, current operating status and system recovery initiatives.
Caught up in the Facebook Live update was Customer Communication Strategy Intern, Katie Gatti, who monitored the whirlwind of social media questions and comments as customers dealt with flight delays and cancellations. Now an Assistant Manager in the Creative Design team, Gatti and Brand Partnerships & Entertainment PR Manager, Michelle Agnew, shared Southwest Airlines case studies and communications best practices with students at the 2018 PRSSA National Conference in Austin, TX.
First Thing’s First: People
In 2017, Southwest Airlines took to the media to remind people that, “Behind Every Seat is a Story.” This campaign showcased unique stories inspired by customers and their relatable, touching and sometimes humorous reasons for flying. Using the Twitter hashtag, #175stories, Southwest Airlines shared moments including their assistance in evacuating an animal shelter after Hurricane Harvey, free airfare giveaways, family vacations, comic conventions, and even a young boy earning his first pair of wings.
“One meaningful moment with a customer can turn into earned media.”
As a brand focused on compassion, transparency and efficiency, Southwest Airlines staff pride themselves on exceptional customer service. Photographer and passenger, Jon Carmichael, boarded his flight to St. Louis with one objective: To capture the solar eclipse. After Southwest Airlines employees helped Carmichael take the perfect picture, his story quickly went viral on social media and was even featured in USA Today.
Gatti and Agnew reminded students that communications initiatives don’t have to be large to be memorable or fun. The duo informed the audience that Southwest Airlines’ policy for creative license with messaging prompted the infamous “Oops, she did it again,” Twitter moment featured by Billboard.
The Southwest Airlines communications team lies at the intersection of technology and customer service, prioritizing compassion, safety, education and transparency — resulting in earned media and loyal customers.