Great EX (Employee Ambassadorship) and CX (Customer Advocacy) Story: The Southwest Airlines Rep and the Passenger With Cancer


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This past July 23rd, Southwest Airlines passenger Stacy Hurt called the airline’s customer service desk at the Pittsburgh International Airport. Her luggage, containing medication for helping with the side effects of the colon cancer chemo therapy, had failed to arrive on a flight from Nashville. She panicked because the medication would be vital, post-treatment, for the chemo she had scheduled for the next day. She immediately called Southwest’s customer service line at the airport.

Sarah Rowan, a customer service staffer for Southwest at the Pittsburgh airport, took the call. She immediately understood the seriousness of the issue for the passenger. Her father had died a few years ago from leukemia, and Sarah was moved to help Stacy in any way she could.

For those of us who have experienced lost, delayed or mishandled luggage events, we expect that the airline involved will deliver it by courier as soon as it arrives at the airport. This, however, was a far more emotional situation for the passenger. Rowan finally located the luggage after midnight; however, the last courier had already gone for the night

Rowan did not hesitate with her next move. She put the bag in her car and drove it to Hurt’s home, even though it was 3 a.m., leaving it on her front doorstep.

Southwest Airlines Agent Note
Southwest Airlines Agent Note

Hurt found the luggage the next morning with a handwritten note inside from Rowan, apologizing for the delay and telling her to “kick that cancer’s butt.” Needless to say, she was extremely grateful.

The two met face-to-face for the first time a few days ago, when Hurt surprised Rowan with a bouquet of flowers at the airport. The meeting was recorded by local television affiliates, and Rowan and Hurd were also featured as ABC News’ “Persons of the Week” this past Friday.

This is a story equally about individual employee ambassadorial behavior on behalf of the employer and the customer and the cultural DNA of Southwest Airlines. Both are essential ingredients for a sustainable, positively differentiated recipe of top-shelf EX and CX. For companies like Southwest, the ‘people first’ focus begins in the hiring process and continues through the working life of the employee. Stakeholder-centricity is a win-win for Southwest customers and employees.

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.



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