How Southwest Airlines Failed Customer Expectations avatar
How Southwest Airlines Failed Customer Expectations

Customer Expectations are so important in any business. It can mean the difference between a satisfied customer or a disgruntled customer that spreads the word of bad service to all their friends.

Southwest Airlines AngryI’m a regular flyer on Southwest Airlines. Love their efficiency and I know the system so I know how to get a seat I’ll be happy with, and they’re easy to get in and out. My expectations of their service was always clear – no frills, confirm your flight online and get an early boarding – great.  I always despised other airlines and their inefficient processes. Plus , I’m a shareholder.

However, my last experience with Southwest Airlines was incredibly disappointing, and a case study on client expectation management and how not to manage clients.

Here’s what happened:

I had a trip booked for business and last minute could not make it. I did not call to cancel with all the chaos. I had to cancel because my wife had to travel out of country to be with her mother on a medical emergency and I had to stay home with our two children. Of course I thought that I’d be able to use my flight that I paid for with Southwest Airlines at a later date and remember thinking that it would be fine, it was Southwest and I’ve rescheduled other flights.

However when I called today to book another flight to the same city less than 1 month later they told me that Southwest Airlines had forfeited my funds – I would have to pay out of pocked for a new flight! I was so angry. I had been flying for years with Southwest Airlines, and in some cases paying a premium over other airlines just because I was comfortable with the airline and had loyalty.

Citing “Policy” is Bad Customer Service

So when I called to tell them I just wanted to use my unused flight from last month the customer service rep said, “You have no funds from that flight available. You forfeited that when you didn’t show. That’s a new policy we put in place in August of 2013, and I didn’t receive a call that you were going to cancel?”

Wait, what??? First of all I didn’t know I was supposed to call you personally. Second, I didn’t know I was supposed to call at all, and finally I had a family medical emergency and was scrambling to deal with my family situation.

New policy? Did I miss the press release on that? Sorry Southwest Airlines, but I missed that memo. Guess I should read that size 3 font you send when you book your flight that comes in my email, or printed on my boarding pass.

Expectations are everything – that’s why the airline works so hard at its consistent operational model…customers know exactly what to expect; this I did not expect. I paid for a flight that I did not take. I’m a loyal customer and the gratitude is for me to buy a brand new ticket citing “policy”?

Better Client Expectation Management

Here’s what would have been a much more appropriate response from Southwest Airlines:

“Sorry sir that you could not make your flight. For the future, if you do not call to cancel your flight we will not be able to issue a credit. However, since you weren’t aware of this policy and have not done this before I will credit your last flight and you can use those funds towards your new flight.” 

Ahh, ok, now I know and I understand. Versus, I don’t care if you’re a repeat customer that’s our “policy” and too bad for you!

Thanks Southwest Airlines.

Give the customer the benefit of the doubt…it will go a long ways towards managing customer expectations, and customer satisfaction.



  • maggie winslett

    When the company began, we would have actually placed you on the next flight you needed. IF you were running late, didn’t have a new ticket we would charge your credit card in flight, on a hand held credit card 3 carbon press, (no credit check) and served you all the free mixed drinks & peanuts you wanted….no joke….ahhh the good old dayzzzzs. Funny, the entire time I worked there I never heard anything about the ticket not going through. Life was so dang much more fun on planes then. We dressed in costumes during any holiday, we sang in mid isle, the P.A.s were funny as hell. There was actually a coat closet. And, when it was really hot in Texas we flew with the cockpit door open so the guys wouldn’t get too hot.