Southwest Airlines Gives Us Another Lesson in Customer Loyalty


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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.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Shep Hyken
Shep Hyken, CSP, CPAE is the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. As a customer service speaker and expert, Shep works with companies who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. He is a hall of fame speaker (National Speakers Association) and a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling author.


  1. Southwest Airlines is more than just friendly and customer-focused. They are, and have been for a long time, a truly customer-centric organization. Southwest well understands that damaged or lost luggage is, or can be, a major air travel experience pain point; and they also recognize the power of informal offline and online word-of-mouth to drive sentiment. Embedded deep within the DNA of their culture is minimizing problems and customer risk, and optimizing value. Your story is a great example of how they, and their processes, institutionalize customer proaction and drive loyalty behavior.

  2. Hi Michael – Always appreciate your insights. Thanks for stopping by. All companies should focus on minimizing problems and customer risk. Southwest is one of those rock star examples.

  3. It remembers me my experience with the indian company Indigo : exactly the opposite. The employee told me that my suitcase was certainly damaged before and even didn’t register my complaint !
    And also all the times I helped my teams when the railway traffic was disrupted. I always loved the challenge to find a solution for the worst cases. Empathy can turns stressed / angry customers in your biggest supporters. I especially remember a group of foreign travelers. They were losting one day at their final destination because of the delay. But I sent them in Saint Jean de Luz, a very beautiful coastal town a few kilometers from there for the night. I asked the taxi driver to take the scenic coastal road to reach the hotel. And of course I explained the customers how lucky they were to have this delay. Otherwise they wouldn’t have visited this lovely town for free ! They were so happy that they shot pictures and videos with me to talk worldwide about their awesome disrupted experience in France.


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