Southwest Airlines Customer Service – Kudos or Caution?

Customer Service is a tricky little vixen. She can MAKE or BREAK your business and I have a story to telSouthwest Airlines Logo - Article by Vicki Fitchl about Southwest Airlines

Have you ever noticed when you are traveling through busy airports, etc. that the people you come in contact with tend to be grouchy, frustrated and intolerant?  Now I am not speaking for everyone mind you but I have noticed that TSA is rapidly taking over the post office as some of the most intolerant public service situations… ever…

I am a pretty happy-go-lucky girl and I love traveling, people watching and having fun no matter what I do but I had customer service experience today that I just had to share…

Excited about attending Tony Robbins Business Mastery event in Palm Beach Florida, I arrived early at LAX airport and went to the outside skycap service and spoke to “Lenny” (I didn’t realize I was going to be writing a blog post so I didn’t get permission to use his name so I will just leave it at Lenny) he was kind and helpful and gave me clear directions on where I needed to go. His personality and interaction was fairly muted with very limited adjustments of his voice or facial expressions but again he was courteous, which in itself is somewhat rare these days.  Normally you get the non Customer Service driven person that let’s you and everyone else know they are irritated that the last few people haven’t tipped them and they are copping an attitude because they think they “deserve” it… On occasion, they will express this thought out loud with a comment like, “These lazy people are too dumb to realize tips are expected!” It is amazing what happens to the tips of skycaps who smile, laugh and bring energy to others… I think I should go to the airlines and recommend I speak to their staff to improve customer service by helping them understand the value of EXCEPTIONAL CUSTOMER SERVICE… but I digress.

TSA Pre Check logo - Article by Vicki Fitch

I get through to the TSA screening section and I have to say… these people were in RARE FORM. Their way of getting people through the line as quickly as possible was to drone on and on about how they shouldn’t have to ask if you are TSA Pre or not, that “A computer goes in a bin all by itself people… why do I have to keep saying this over and over?” Could it be because you are herding the cattle through at such a pace that those that are not frequent flyers are having a hard time understanding what is expected of them? Or perhaps it is a new group, finally in ear shot, that is coming in midway through your spiel. Those first time travelers coming to the airport with excitement, anticipation and even some anxiety about the unknown world of travel, airplanes, skycaps, tipping practices and TSA tirades, deserve a little dignity and respect don’t they? And what about the multiple languages in this monstrosity of an international airport… could we make their experience a little less stressful by kindly guiding them through the process?

Now I know you TSA peeps out there are yelling at me and maybe throwing things at your computer or across the room thinking… “You have no idea!!!! We tell them over and over and over again and they still don’t listen! It is frustrating and aggravating and annoying. These people need to LISTEN AND PAY ATTENTION!!” For the purpose of this post, I am not going to argue the point that these people are paying to travel and without them you wouldn’t have a job, or the fact that if you don’t want to deal with a group of people who might be uneasy about a situation and not paying as much attention as you would like, you might want to find a new job… because that would be taken out of context so I am just going to share with you a Customer Service experience I had with Sheri of Southwest Airlines.

As I boarded my flight for Baltimore… yes I ended up in Baltimore before going to Palm Beach from LAX… don’t ask. I paid to upgrade so I would have some legroom because I am 6 ft tall and somehow even though I had checked in 10 min after it was possible on line, I was number C 58 for boarding and I knew that meant a middle seat somewhere with limited flexibility and it was a long flight. I ended up in the front row sitting next to Joseph and his service dog Jim Beam (yes he has a brother named Jack Daniels… true story.) Jim Beam is a bomb sniffing police dog headed off to protect the world at President Trump’s inaugural address. There are so many stories in here, like Tom the attorney who was delightful and funny and my other seatmate that allowed Jim Beam to snuggle up on her feet, who were also headed to Baltimore for this epic event. Now you are wondering… OK, OK we know the cast now… what about Sheri.

Sheri was our flight attendant. Patient, kind, smiling continually. Not that plastic smile that says Southwest Airlines - Sheri Hightower - Article by Vicki Fitch“I have to do this so I don’t strangle a passenger”, but the one that says, “I truly want to make sure each and every person on this flight has an amazing time”. Sheri found the right middle seat mate for Jim Beam and offered up complimentary beverages and snacks with enthusiasm. Genuine enthusiasm.  I am betting that some of you reading this are going to relate to this when I say, there have been flight attendants that have served up beverages as a checklist on their to-do’s, handed out the snacks in the most sparing and less than congenial way ever. (I am not suggesting this has ever happened at Southwest Airlines, just somewhere in the stratosphere of travel in general) I bet some of you would even recognize the hesitancy to ask for another pretzel or peanut bag lest you have your hand slapped or were mocked with a facial expression worthy of frustrating a pesky little brother or sister when you were a child. Some of you may have silently gnawed on your own arm just so you wouldn’t have to face the scrutiny and judgement of the flight attendant who mocked you with their eyes suggesting you should have eaten before the flight. This isn’t the 90’s anymore where you were actually fed on cross country flights! Now I hope some of you are laughing because I think a good blog post should always carry some emotion with it.  Make me laugh, make me cry, make me throw something… but for goodness sake, make me feel anything, but you better entertain me!

Sheri Hightower - Southwest Airlines Customer Service Queen - Article by Vicki FitchBack to Sheri, the Customer Service Queen! She passed out snacks with a smile and an invitation in her dimples that said, “It’s OK to have a snack! How can I serve you?” What can I say, they were very communicative dimples! She served beverages with a smile and made eye contact.  Yes, eye contact with joy in her eyes and not a mocking wrinkle to be found. She made you feel special and like you mattered. If you are thinking to yourself. “Vicki, how can you compare serving complimentary beverages and snacks to the abuse the TSA takes dealing with person after person that isn’t listening and we have to repeat ourselves so many times it makes us crazy?” Great question…

The plane we were on was a newer plane and in the infinite wisdom of the design, the lavatory light to show when the bathroom was occupied or vacant is a little more subtle than the passengers could easily see. (Seriously A LOT more subtle – I’d change this back on the next round Southwest so Sheri can keep those dimples smiling!) So time after time when Sheri would make the announcement to please not come to the front lavatory until the occupied light was off, and yet passenger after passenger did exactly that. What did Sheri do? She gently reminded them there was no standing near the cockpit and they must stand back at row 6 to comply with the federal regulations. I realize while I’m writing that it sounds dry and cold but Sheri was anything but. Her eyes, her dimples and her voice all said, “I care about you and this is for your safety as much as the protection of the pilots.” (I told you those dimples speak volumes!)

When the same people would come up time and again she would still remind them with a smile and a dimple what she needed them to do. Honestly I was expecting at some point that she would roll her eyes, throw a little zinger (with a smile of course) that let those in close proximity know how hard she was working saying the same thing over and over and over again.  I watched. I looked. I couldn’t find sarcasm, frustration or irritation in any of her actions or conversations and let’s face it, you couldn’t get any closer to her than I was without violating FAA Regulations!! This woman was the genuine article.  She inspired me so much, I postponed the article on the closet organization – yes I know many of you were anticipating that but you will see it soon. This was noteworthy.  This was customer service without any expectations. Flight attendants don’t typically receive tips… at least not to my knowledge.  I have been traveling for many years and have not seen or participated in that practice. (If I start getting a bunch of hate mail I will know that has been an error on my part!) My point here is that unlike the skycap who wants to be tipped and would be wise to treat people extra special, this flight attendant had no external reason to show each and every person on that plane dignity and respect. She chose to do it because of who she is on the inside. She is a woman that is secure in who she is so she gives from her abundance of confidence that there is no need to resort to being frustrated with others in order to validate herself or her job. I have met many pleasant flight attendants but I was truly impressed with Sheri Hightower. Southwest Airlines you have found yourself a gem and I hope you are treating this woman half as well as she treats your guests.

I left the plane and found I had a 2 hour layover and was actually excited that I would have the opportunity to write this post while it was fresh in my mind. Just for the record I did ask Sheri’s permission to put her name in this post and she blessed me with allowing this photograph as well. So if you are lucky enough to be on a Southwest Airlines flight with Sheri Hightower, rest assured she and her dimples will treat you well from the moment you board, to the moment you exit.

If you happen to see her, tell her Vicki said “Hi” and that she inspired me to “Pay it Forward” and I secretly paid for “Jared’s” shake in the Silver Diner restaurant after he tried to help me fix the Wi-Fi connection on my computer as I wrote this.  Your dimples are still talking Sheri, because you have created a ripple effect of joy. I hope the ripple comes back to you by someone mentioning they saw this post and are excited to have been on a flight with “The Sheri Hightower”.  KUDOS to you Sheri, you made my day and I hope this makes yours!

Until next time….  Dream it, Believe it, Achieve it! – Vicki
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