Southwest Airlines: Surprise and Delight — Live from Member Meeting 30

Coverage of this session by Travis Kenney of Connect with him by following him on Twitter.

1:30 —'s Lauren Clevenger introduces Southwest Airlines' Project Lead of Social Business & Listening, Christi McNeill.

1:32 — Christi explains the “What?”: The act of surprising and delighting customers with the sole intention of creating delight! We use freebies and goodies, above and beyond service, and memorable experiences.

1:34 — Christi: What is the most delightful thing an airlines could do for you on your next flight? (She asks the audience to send their tweet requests to @SouthwestAir.)

1:35 — Christi explains the “Why?”: Opportunities exist everywhere! Something unexpected makes people curious and interested. It empowers employees to be decision makers and to do the right thing. It's a minimal investment but has a huge return (free drink coupons, peanut bag, crown on your birthday, etc.).

1:37 — Christi shares the history of Valentine's Day at Southwest: Heroes of the Heart (recognizes employees that are not customer-facing), Gate Decorating (all airports can participate and can decorate how they like), a free cocktail on Valentine's Day, and Valentine's flair.

1:39 — Christi: LUV is in our DNA.

1:40 — Christi talks about Valentine's Day 2014: How can we continue to “own the holidays” in fun and relevant ways? The project planning began in December 2013. We received an approved budget to surprise customers in DAL, HOU, and DEN with $500 Southwest Airlines gift cards. We secured the multimedia resources to bring these surprises to life. We wrote storyboards and concepts, but really had no idea how our customers would react… but they loved it!

1:41 — Christi talks about “The Video”: The traveling mom, the military hero, the married couple, the long distance lovers… all stories captured in 24 hours of filming in three cities.

1:43 — Christi talks about “The Launch”: We posted the video at 6 AM Friday morning to Facebook. Our Facebook fans had the opportunity to win a gift card just by liking the video. We pitched the story to news media all across the nation and secured several placements.

1:45 — Christi talks about “The Results”: Our highest video views in a single day — ever!  It was a three minute video. We got an overwhelming positive response from fans and employees.  It was a great sense of pride and ownership.

1:46 — Christi shares a few quick tips:

  • Have the right people in the right positions to make decisions
  • Equip your field reporters
  • Look for story ideas (i.e. how to travel with a baby)
  • Plan ahead (have budget and resources set aside for activations)


Q: What are the traits that you look for in Southwest Airlines hires?  

A: Christi: 40 years of great culture. People want to be apart of SWA (no layoffs, no furloughs). When there are two people with same resume, the person with the sense of humor will rise above — we're looking for people who don't take themselves too seriously.

Q: What type of measurement do you do to prove that something works?

A: Christi: Our leaders are not asking about ticket sales. They understand that we're looking for brand engagement.

Q: You're doing things in real time. Do you already have ideas in mind to look spontaneous or is it really on the fly?

A: Christi: It's both.

Q: How do you respond to customers?  

A: Christi: We have a very small social care team (three people) and have the playbook in place to look for the right opportunities. They understand the tone and how to respond.

Q: Field reporters: Who are those folks and how do you enable them?

A: Christi: It's every customer and every employee #SWAlife. We have social media policies in place and we are working on additional training. We also have a corporate blog with 30-50 regular bloggers that work for us.

Q: Any issue with legal teams?  

A: Christi: We have a social media steering group with someone from legal on that team so he's always in the loop on what the social team is doing. We had interns following the videographer around getting releases from everyone.

Q: How are you structured?

A: Christi: Most of our social media reports up through communications. We have a social media hub and spoke model. The listening center is focused in the hub. We have different teams, but we meet regularly.