Southwest Airline’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

by | Sep 22, 2016 | Behavior, Customer Service, Execution, Failure | 0 comments

A few months ago, Southwest Airlines had a very bad day.

On July 20, a router breakdown caused operations-critical technology system failures. The website went down. 1,500 flights were canceled and 4,500 were delayed, stranding and frustrating passengers. An estimated $5 to $10 billion dollars were lost in two days.

It was brutal to be a Southwest customer on their very bad day. I know—I was one of them.

We were stuck in Atlanta when the second leg of our flight to San Antonio was canceled. We waited in line for three hours, moving only 10 feet in the first two. Not a single employee approached us to tell us what was happening, what we could expect or where our luggage was.

We finally caught a flight to Houston, the following day. But it could have been worse. A fellow passenger had had three flights canceled. Another was trying to get to Detroit; the closest she could get was Washington DC.

It was brutal to be a Southwest customer on their very bad day.

This is a stark departure for Southwest, who has set the bar on customer service in the challenging service industry of airline travel.

“And Your Point Is…?”

Even the best have bad days. They are going to come at some point. The real question is: When yours comes, how will you respond?

So What?

Southwest had multiple opportunities they missed. One employee stood by the counter for 45 minutes and served no one when she could have been explaining what had happened and informing the people in line about their options. Someone could have passed out water to people in line. When we got to counter the ticket agent never once looked me in the eye, never apologized for what was happening.

No doubt the employees were fatigued, shell-shocked and overwhelmed. But by not informing people and failing to engage, they created animosity and resentment. After all, people get that stuff happens and technology fails; we know “perfect” can’t happen all the time. Information and “I’m sorry” can go a long way to diffuse anger, confusion and disappointment.

The Big Picture

I expect Southwest will correct the technology issues, and train for these circumstances to be better prepared to respond the next time. But let their lesson should be a reminder to us all: Even the best have bad days. The real question is: When your next one comes, how will you respond?

Even the best have bad days. The real question is: When yours comes, how will you respond?

Got a suggestion for Southwest about what they can do to improve and prepare for their next bad day? Share it in the form of a comment—with one caveat: Keep it positive. It must be a real suggestion, not a gripe. 

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