Southwest Airlines: How to fly through turbulence

Ever since the Aug. 3 Southwest Airlines “glitch” (you know, the little bookings slip-up that resulted in various customers receiving more than 20 duplicate flight reservations), the airline has dealt with a pile-up of customer baggage. But instead of spiraling into a tailspin, Southwest demonstrated superb damage control by acknowledging its faults and addressing consumers directly via social media.

“We certainly recognize that we’re not perfect,” says Southwest’s VP of communications Linda Rutherford. “[But], it’s how you work with the customer when something goes less than stellar.”

The booking error occurred the morning of Friday, August 3, after Southwest reached 3 million Facebook followers. In celebration of the milestone, the airline offered a 50% discount for select flights. By late Friday afternoon, Southwest discovered the duplicate bookings and turned to social media to settle the turbulence.

“We don’t filter out things if they’re not positive,” Rutherford says. “We believe in the transparency of social media. Thankfully, it was through those social media channels that we realized that we had an issue.”

Throughout the weekend Southwest kept its clients updated through Facebook, Twitter, and messages on the company’s homepage. The airline also sent an email to those hit by the booking error explaining the mishap and attaching a $150 voucher, Rutherford says. Southwest intends to refund those overcharged and pay any overdraft fees caused by the incident.

Southwest is renowned for its customer service; in fact, it received the JD Power Customer Service Champion award this year, according to the airline’s website. Hence, maintaining its high level of customer satisfaction during this crisis was crucial, and Southwest piloted through the storm beautifully.

Customers are willing to forgive an organization when it fumbles, but only if they see results of progressive change. By keeping its clients in the loop, Southwest showed its customers that the issue was being handled. Clearly, allowing customers to vent via the airline’s social media platform made Southwest vulnerable to ridicule, but it also served as a fast and cost-effective way to ensure that customers were receiving information about the situation and any related refunds–providing both the airline and the consumers with a first-class problem solving solution.

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