Why Southwest Airlines Has an Online Forum
When you’re booking your next flight and wondering about your in-terminal dining options or which seat will give you the best takeoff and landing views, check to see if you’re preferred airline has a community that can help out with those questions. Southwest Airlines does, and it might be the only online community hosted by a major airline.
Airlines are always managing customer-facing and public relations issues so how exactly does one make the case for building a community? In this episode, Lindsey Duncan, who oversees the moderation and management of the Southwest Airlines Community, explains the unique relationships and conversations that it has fostered. The community thrives when it comes to topics that involve a unique point of view that can’t always be provided by a Southwest staff member. For example, help traveling with children and getting tips as a first-time air traveler. These conversations also help Southwest Airlines create memorable brand moments and long-lasting customers.
Lindsay also shares:
- The ROI of a community-driven knowledge base
- Using community to connect customers and create memorable brand moments
- How two Southwest Community Champions connected and went on a trip to Disney together
On making the case for community: “A customer is more inclined to believe information if it comes from another customer, or to take a recommendation that comes from another customer. … The idea [for the Southwest Airlines Community] was, we can get people more authentic information and learn more about our customers, and gain really great customer insight, and then also deflect some of the traffic from our customer service centers.” –@LDunkster
Why community members return: “There’s a sense of camaraderie that develops [between the Southwest Community Champions] because they help each other out. … I think anytime you can form a real connection with somebody and you’ve got [a community] to nurture that and see it grow, as well as the fact that you are sharing in the activity of actually helping people out, they’re going to keep coming back for more.” –@LDunkster
About Lindsey Duncan
Lindsey Duncan is a social business senior specialist for Southwest Airlines, with a decade of experience in the airline and aviation industry.
She launched and oversees the daily moderation and management of the Southwest Airlines Community, including a blog and discussion forum where customers can share experiences and knowledge. In 2018, Southwest Airlines launched Community Champions, a super user program of nine members and counting.
- Lindsey Duncan on Twitter
- Southwest Airlines
- The Southwest Airlines Community
- Southwest Community Champions Program
- Digital strategist Jason Falls on Community Signal
- Flyer Talk
- A Southwest community member shares details on installing a CARES harness
- The careers section of the Southwest community
[00:00] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:00:22] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and thank you for joining me for this episode of Community Signal. We’re talking with Lindsey Duncan, who heads up the Southwest Airlines online community about their super user’s program, the riskiness of a major airline having an open online forum, and the type of customer that goes looking for it. Serena Snoad, Maggie McGary, and Marjorie Anderson are just three of our amazing supporters on Patreon. If you find value in the show, learn more at communitysignal.com/innercircle.
Lindsey Duncan is a social business senior specialist for Southwest Airlines with a decade of experience in the airline and aviation industry. In her current role, Lindsey has helped launched and oversee the daily moderation and management of the Southwest Airlines community, a blog and discussion forum where customers can share experiences and knowledge. In 2018, they launched a super user program called Community Champions, which is currently comprised of 11 members and counting.
Lindsey, welcome to the show.
[00:01:14] Lindsey Duncan: Thanks, Patrick. Glad to be here.
[00:02:10] Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s talk about your path to community work. You’ve been at Southwest for well over 10 years starting in a customer relations role. How did you get here?
[00:01:24] Lindsey Duncan: Sure. I started off in customer relations in 2008. When I originally came to Southwest Airlines, I was hired into the customer relations department. I talked to folks on the phone for about a year, customers who had an issue that they needed some help getting resolution on.
After that, I moved on to be a writer and responded to people’s letters for about a year. Then I moved on to a small team that specialized in situations where maybe a whole flight was affected by a delay or mechanical issue and we wanted to reach out to those folks. I worked on that team for about, I think, roughly four years.
Then I shifted over to our social care team and started responding to customers on Facebook and Twitter and really enjoyed that. I did that for a little over a year. Then that led me into the communications and outreach department at Southwest Airlines. When I jumped on board there, about three years ago, they had this position open. This was a project that had just gotten underway. We were exploring a new platform to host our blog on because the platform we were using at that time was getting a little bit overloaded by traffic.
We moved on to this other platform where we could have both a blog and this new concept, which was a discussion forum. That was going to be a place where we could allow customers to talk to each other, share their great knowledge and stories with each other. That’s when I came on board. It was just an idea at that time, and we brought it into existence in July of 2016. That is how I made my way over to the Southwest Airlines community.
[00:03:03] Patrick O’Keefe: You were responding to letters you said. Is that sort of the generic customer letter to the company, letter to the CEO? My dad is actually a big believer in sending letters still. I guess, honestly, it’s funny how things are cyclical, because I think in a way, you’ve outrun what is the most noisy communication channel now, where letters might have been the noisiest one once upon a time.
Now, everyone’s complaining on Twitter and it is sort of expected to have social listening, and obviously telephone, but a letter actually stands out these days if you take the time to actually write one, sign one, and send one. What type of letters were you responding to?
[00:03:42] Lindsey Duncan: It was about 2010 when I started responding to letters. At that time, truly, it was your supervisor would walk around the office on a Monday morning and put a stack of letters on your desk. Some of them were typed, some of them were handwritten, because we weren’t receiving emails from customers at that time, so when I say letter, I mean it was a letter.
You would read through these letters the customers sent you, and then you have about a week to formulate responses back to them, and they kind of went through an editing process and then it would go back out to the customer.
It could be anything from, “Hey, Southwest, I have a great idea.” I had a customer once who thought that the announcements that flight attendants make to you on board, this customer felt that those would be more interesting if the flight attendants used hand puppets. She proposed the pattern and everything for the hand puppet that would be used. I read through that and responded back to her. We didn’t end up going in that direction.
Everything from people’s ideas like that, to complaints about a situation they experienced or a customer service issue they have, and sometimes, yes, they write directly to the CEO. We are a small group, so we would respond on behalf of the executive office.
[00:04:51] Patrick O’Keefe: Very cool. I was looking around at online forums for major airlines, because different businesses have different likely applicabilities for online community, which is not a really straightforward way to say it. Not every business should have a forum necessarily. A major airline having a forum might seem somewhat risky to some. I looked around, I did a few searches with major airlines in the US; Delta, United, American, what have you, I couldn’t find any online forums for huge airlines. Are you aware of any others?
[00:05:22] Lindsey Duncan: No, I’m really not. As far as we knew, at the time we were the first airline to venture into this space. I’m not surprised you didn’t find anything else out there because we didn’t either when we got into this. We were truly taking a leap of faith and hoping it would work out.
[00:05:37] Patrick O’Keefe: I think you said you came on board while this was a project idea, so you may or may not be able to answer this. With that in mind, with it maybe being a risky thing, I’m sure for some people internally and knowing how those conversations go, what was the pitch like internally to create a forum?
[00:05:51] Lindsey Duncan: Great question. There were people who had hesitation and concern, rightly so, because if you’re going to have a discussion forum, you’re allowing your cheese to be out there in the winds, customers will come along and talk about any kind of experience. Hopefully, those are good experiences, but we know that people have occasionally bad experiences, and they’re going to share those, too.
The proposal was, if you know anything about Southwest Airlines, you know that we have passionate customers, people who have only flown Southwest Airlines since the time that they were kids, or people who have special memories of the flight attendants, the airport, the people they met when they were getting on their flight, people they met on their fight. There’s this kind of culture of fun that surrounds all of Southwest Airlines.
The idea was, “Hey, let’s take these people and give them a space where they can talk to each other.” We’ve got the 1-800 phone number where customers can call in with a question and get an answer from a Southwest Airlines employee. We have customer relations. If they’re not getting their issue addressed at the airport, at the 1-800 number, they can follow up with customer relations after the fact. We have representatives there who are happy to talk to customers.
I think we all know that a customer is more inclined to believe information if it comes from another customer, or to take a recommendation that comes from another customer. If you have a mom who’s getting ready to get on a plane with her kids for the first time and she’s got a question about, “Hey, what do I do with my kid’s baggage,” or, “Can I bring a stroller,” and she’s able to talk to another mom who has had that experience, she’s going to be all the more likely to believe her, and it didn’t cost us anything for those two folks to be able to communicate with each other.
The idea was, we can get people more authentic information and learn more about our customers, and gain really great customer insight, and then also deflect some of the traffic from our customer service centers. That was the pitch.
[00:07:40] Patrick O’Keefe: The Southwest community isn’t necessarily easy to find or is easy to find as other channels, let’s say. I went to the practice myself and there’s a text link at the bottom of the homepage, with other option is having a higher emphasis on the contact page. It’s obviously not the first option, understandably so, but it’s beneath other options. Who do you think finds the forum? What does that customer look like?
[00:08:01] Lindsey Duncan: I think that customers who find our forum are people who go to Google and ask a question. “Is the size of my bag too big to carry on,” or, “Am I allowed to bring X, Y, Z, onto a Southwest flight? How does boarding work on Southwest Airlines?” I think people who type those kinds of questions into Google end up, whether they realize it or not, finding an answer that was surfaced from the Southwest community.
They click on it and then they end up there, and then they find out what it is, and see all the other great information that’s there. Yes, I think your average customer who’s stumbling onto our community is doing it because they’re asking a question somewhere else.
[00:08:38] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s an interesting point. The forum allows Southwest to have a higher percentage of the voice share of search results. When people type in a question, they could end up in any number of flying forums. There’s a lot out there, air travel forums, mileage run forums, all sorts of communities.
Because you have this forum, you have a higher quantity of knowledge base material questions, answers, and because they’re on your website, I’m guessing the belief is that you believe they will find a better quality, more accurate, more Southwest Airlines perspective type-answer. If that’s the case, is that part of the value that you see internally? Do you track that in some way or is that something that you report on it all?
[00:09:19] Lindsey Duncan: Absolutely. We are able to see what kind of questions customers are most frequently asking. There is a value add there to us, because if it’s being posted on Flyer Talk or another forum, we don’t necessarily get to see the back end of that information. It’s really hard for us to gauge, well, how frequently are customers asking about travel funds, or seating arrangements, or boarding passes if it’s on another forum.
If it’s on our own property, we can go into the back end and see, “Hey, this percentage of people are asking about this topic every month, so maybe we should put some information out there about that.” That’s a huge value for us. Also, the fact that people can come and connect with a Southwest Airlines employee. I’m on there and it’s very clearly indicated on my profile that I’m an employee.
We have several other moderators on the community and their profiles note that they are employees as well.
I think that there is a bit of a safety element in that people feel like the information that’s being traded back and forth on here is being monitored by the airline. If there’s something that’s blatantly wrong, we’re going to go in there and correct it. Or, if they have a question that they just really want reassurance from a moderator on, they can always tag us, and we’ll get in there and be able to respond. Yes, I think there’s check and balance there that is better for customers than going to these rogue forums that exist.
[00:10:36] Patrick O’Keefe: In the pre-show questionnaire, you talked about call deflection, which can be a challenging metric because of segmented data systems which force you to guess or estimate. The problem we all struggle with at one point or another, making the left handshake with the right hand basically, and have them come together and high five once in a while and it works out. How were you measuring call deflection?
[00:11:01] Lindsey Duncan: It is a tricky question. I can tell you that we take a look at it every month. What we’ve seen, so we launched in the summer of 2016, and we look back at our data from that year, from the year 2017, from 2018, and when we’re looking at it, there is a number of calls that is being deflected from our customer service centers, and it is increasing year over year as the community gets a little bit more visibility and people started to understand that it is a resource they can use.
We see it increasing and we’re keeping track of it, and just hoping to see that number continue to grow year over year.
[00:11:39] Patrick O’Keefe: Excellent. On a show I did a while back with Jason Falls, who’s an agency guy, a well-respected digital marketing, digital agency guy, and he said if you go back 10 years or longer, and he works a lot with spirit brands, so whiskey especially. Like if he could go back 10 years and say start an online forum and then go 10 years, you’ll see this tremendous value in search.
I think that’s something that very well will play out here, assuming that the buy-in continues at Southwest to keep a community going for 10, 15 years, and to respect that data and information, because a lot of companies will, people leave, someone who’s passionate about it. Maybe someone like yourself might leave right for another company and you’ve been there over 10 years, you’re not leaving, I’m not saying that, but you might leave, and then the next person who hands over might not be as interested, or passionate, or see the value, and so they might not be the advocate for it internally.
That community either goes away and so does the information, or they transfer it to something they like more software-wise, but they don’t put in the effort to convert the information over to the new platform. They just think, “Let’s start over. We’ve got traffic, we can just start over,” and they lose that value. If you stick it out for a decade or more, you’ll amass this incredible wealth of information and search engines can send traffic to forums and online communities, 10, 15-year-old posts can still be bringing traffic to the brand that much later.
Let’s get tactical for a moment. You mentioned your post in the community. I’ve read a couple of threads. I read a thread where a member said that it was their first time flying and they received some advice from the community, and you popped in there and expressed appreciation for the community’s contribution, and then asked the member to send you a private message because you wanted to follow up privately. That’s not a customer service intensive moment. They don’t have a problem. They’ve got good advice on flying first, so you’re not losing a customer or anything like that at that point, there’s no urgency. In that moment, what are you telling that member?
[00:13:31] Lindsey Duncan: We’ve always said that we are in the people business and we happen to fly airplanes. I am passionate about everything Southwest Airlines. I’m very particularly passionate about that. If we have an opportunity to connect with the customer in a special moment in their lives, then we’re absolutely going to take the opportunity to do that.
In this situation, what we’re communicating to the customer is that it matters to us that they are taking their first flight, whether that’s ever in their life or on Southwest Airlines. Either way, that’s a momentous occasion for them, and they had other choices and they chose us.
That is an opportunity for us to step in, make an authentic connection with the customer, and then maybe send them some surprise and delight-type items. We might send them a card that just says, “Hey, thank you so much for choosing Southwest Airlines. Here’s a free Wi-Fi code. Why don’t you enjoy browsing the Internet on your flight?”
We had another customer, I think, who reached out and was a little bit of a nervous flyer and was going to fly on Southwest Airlines for the first time. I think we sent her a teddy bear, a pilot teddy bear, just to welcome her to the Southwest family.
I hope what our customers are getting out of those interactions is, “Wow, this is a community where I’m coming and connecting with other customers, so that’s real. That’s not fabricated. Also, the company is paying attention, and they care about me as an individual customer, and they’re seizing this moment to be able to create a memory and make it a good one.”
[00:14:58] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, that’s a great thing.
You mentioned first flight they chose Southwest, and obviously, you want them to keep choosing Southwest. Yes, it’s a really great way to do that. Is there any sort of, without making it sound too analytical here, but, of course, you can mark a customer that is taking their first flight, you can mark an action taken; you did a personal outreach to them.
Have you looked at that at all and seeing like, “Okay, this person came back and flew a second time more so than a customer who didn’t?” Not everything needs to be measured. I’m not one of those people who is like if it didn’t get measured, it didn’t happen. I don’t believe in that at all, but out of curiosity.
[00:15:33] Lindsey Duncan: Yes. Yes, we love to see an ROI on that kind of stuff. Of course, we’re doing it just to do it, but we do go back and look on community because we’re talking about a much smaller number of individuals that I’m reaching out and making a connection with.
Not as much, but in our wider communication strategy where we’ve got a team of people reaching out to customers on Facebook, and Twitter, and other platforms, we do take a step back and look at measurement and say, “Okay, how many of these people that we reached out and did some surprise and delight activity with came back and redeemed those coupon codes, or use that stuff, or were return customers?” We do track that, yes, because, for one thing, it’s just fun to look at and see like, “Hey, did this make a difference in that customer’s affinity for our brand?”
[00:16:19] Patrick O’Keefe: There was another thread I read, a little less happy, fairly standard complaint, “Gate agent was rude, caused me to miss my flight.” Not only that the person felt that they had been discriminated against and a Community Champion responded. They defended Southwest saying the company doesn’t discriminate because they hire minorities. When that sort of thing hits the forum, kind of a sensitive complaint, what’s the protocol?
[00:16:43] Lindsey Duncan: The protocol is to reach out to that individual privately because we want them to know that their concerns are important and their concerns have been heard. The first thing we want to do is reach out and say, “Thank you for taking time to share this experience with us. We want to take the time to properly research it and give you the assurance that we’re going to take that as an action item on the back end.”
I reach out to that customer and let them know that, “I’ve reached out to customer relations, and here’s the information if you haven’t been able to get in touch with them already, here’s how you can.” We make sure that someone is assigned to that specific situation to go back and research it, gather information, gather data and facts, and then follow up with that customer individually.
The community is a peer-to-peer discussion forum, so occasionally threads like that do find their way onto it. We just have to make sure that people understand we don’t have the resources on this community, this discussion forum, to resolve individual customer service issues, but we are happy and we take it seriously to reroute those to the appropriate avenue and the appropriate people who can go back and research that.
[00:17:55] Patrick O’Keefe: As you read the forums, you sense the inquiries that are most suited to it, and you highlight it at the top of this show. The kind of questions that lend itself to believing the credibility of the speaker, what comes from a company versus what comes from a person like you. The way I read it is that, obviously anything urgent outside of the terminal you need a call. Also beyond that, anything that relates to information about the company, anything sensitive to do with the customer, anything about their particular order, their flight, anything like that needs to go through customer service.
The type of things that really shine in this community are the sort of questions like, “What’s the most comfortable airplane that Southwest has?” or, “What’s the smoothest flight experience?” To draw on the question early, “This is my first time flying, I’m nervous.” Southwest might have the same planes across the board, I don’t know. Most airlines don’t, so I’m assuming, no, but “What’s the best plane for a first time flyer?” That’s a case that could go to a customer service agent and maybe they could put an answer together, but they’re not really maybe even the best person.
I’m sure you have an answer there, but the community is a better place to get that answer because you have people who are passionate flyers, who have flown on Southwest who have an opinion on what’s the smoothest flight.
“What’s the best in-flight meal option? What’s the best coffee at JFK or wherever?” Is that a fair representation of how you see the community shining brightest, or are there some other conversations that come to mind?
[00:19:22] Lindsey Duncan: Yes. I do think you’re hitting the nail on the head. It’s funny you mentioned what’s the best coffee at JFK or whatever. That was one of the ones that I was thinking. It always makes me laugh, but a good question that will always get a lot of response is, “I’ve got a layover in XYZ city, where should I eat?” or, “What food options are available to me in this terminal?” It’s just a dog-pile. I mean, everybody has got, “Oh, you got to go get this, this, and this, and if you’re at this airport, here’s my favorite place to eat.”
Everyone has got their favorite way to kill time in the terminal, and they are all really happy to talk about that. Cities where Southwest Airlines might potentially fly to, that’s another one that will get a lot of buzz. People love to speculate about that. I love to see it because it’s exciting to know that our customers want to be able to fly us to anywhere they’re going to go. That gets buzz.
People asking questions about flying with their family or their kids, or planning trips, is one that, to me, is a really sweet interaction that often gets a lot of attention because our super users, many of them have their own children, and so they’re pretty well versed in traveling with kids, and they are all too happy to offer advice on the topic. One of our super users even posted a step-by-step process of how to use the CARES harness on a flight, with pictures, so that people could see that.
Pets, too, if you have questions about flying with their pets. If people have questions about traveling with a disability, that’s something else that we see pretty positive response to. Folks have a lot of good advice on that.
Yes, it seems to be a place where people are just able to come and talk about shared travel experiences. Those things are the kind of things that really do well in our community and get a lot of traction. Then also, things that are specific to Southwest Airlines, like if I have a question about how to apply a LUV Voucher to my travel, or how can I use my leftover funds, or how can I track my leftover funds.
Our community super users are great about getting in and then posting these step-by-step answers. Now, like you said, I could sit down and write that stuff out, but they do such a phenomenal job of it. I often sit back and just marvel at the quality of content that shows up when people have these really specific nuanced Southwest Airlines travel questions.
[00:21:32] Patrick O’Keefe: Speaking of the Community Champions program, currently nine, I believe. I have managed communities not exactly like this but certainly support-oriented communities or people often have a question and are there to get what they need and then go on with their lives basically.
I know that these sorts of communities have a high, I guess, technically it’s not a bounce rate in sort of a traditional web analytics hit a page and leave, but it’s the equivalent for online communities. They join, they register, they post, they get their answer, they go. For the percentage that stays, for that small percentage of people who actually stick around and come back for months and years, I mean the Community Champion program is there, it’s visible, it’s sort of an apple I guess, in a sense, but what do you think is the motivation of the people who stick around?
[00:22:18] Lindsey Duncan: Yes, you said nine. We actually are up to 11 now, we added two more this last month.
[00:22:22] Patrick O’Keefe: Awesome
[00:22:24] Lindsey Duncan: I think that what people get out of it, because the Community Champions do have a private discussion board where they can just talk to each other, and so, one of the reasons that I see them stick around and one of the reasons I think they do is there’s a sense of camaraderie that develops because they help each other out.
If someone gets stuck on how to answer a question, they can pop into this private discussion forum and say, “Well, this is the information I know. What do you guys know?” and help each other in that way, so there’s a technical value-add. Also, it’s just, “Hey, here’s a group of people with a shared interest, and we all enjoy flying Southwest Airlines, and so we just have stuff to talk about.
One of my favorite stories that came out of the Community Champions program is we had a couple of two champions, two Community Champions, and they both in addition to this love of travel and Southwest Airlines, they’re also big Disney fans. We do an annual meet up with all of our champions in person. We had our first one last fall.
A few weeks before that, these two guys arrange their own meet up with their families and met at the Disney World and rode a few rides together at Disney World. They both happened to be in Florida, and so they were able to do that and then they posted pictures of it on the discussion board. It was really neat to see like, oh, my gosh, out of these shared common interests, a true friendship was born.
They keep up with each other and, yes, I think anytime you can form a real connection with somebody, and you’ve got this place to nurture that and see it grow, as well as the fact that you are sharing activity of actually helping people out, they’re going to keep coming back for more, and we’ve seen that.
[00:24:05] Patrick O’Keefe: What sort of tools and access do you give them?
[00:24:08] Lindsey Duncan: Well, we’re working on enhancing that this year. That’s something that we’re learning as we go and we are seeing that, “Okay, one of things we’ve got to provide is good tools for our Community Champions to be able to use. They have this private board where they’re able to go back and forth and have conversations with each other. Outside of that, we don’t have any particularly special tools other than the fact that they can reach out to us for help right now.
[00:24:33] Patrick O’Keefe: Well, that is a tool in and of itself. I mean the reality is that a lot of online communities run by big companies, small companies, all these, their tool is often communication and access behind the scenes to get something done or to escalate something to you. If you had your dream scenario, let’s say, kind of moving on that private forum in that access, what do you want to get them?
[00:24:56] Lindsey Duncan: Well, I would love to give our super users is a really easy way to see all of the questions that are, A, unanswered on the forum. There is a way to see it, but it’s what everybody else has access to. I would love to give them a more specific tool that just surfaces any post that does not have a response to it.
I’d like to give them a tool that shows them any post that doesn’t have an accepted solution, because that’s a behavior that we’ve worked really hard to try and get our community members to adopt. It’s obviously much better for our customer and for their experience if they can come to the community and see that authenticated, green checkmark. This is the answer that I know I can depend on. It’s been answered by somebody who has some amount of knowledge and is a trusted voice. I’d love to be able to give them a tool that shows them “Hey, can you go in here and post a response to this that will be an accepted solution?”
[00:25:46] Patrick O’Keefe: Those are both super reasonable. I’m surprised Lithium doesn’t already have those lined up for you. Lithium, get on that. [laughs] Those are both reasonable asks, you’re not asking for the moon there. People just need simple tools to go in and make a difference in a community.
It’s often like on Twitter– Twitter is a fun example. People joke about when Twitter launches a new feature, it’s like, “We just want to be able to edit for 30 seconds, to edit a tweet we make a typo,” like they have a 30-second edit window. “But, okay, here’s 280 characters.” “Great. We didn’t necessarily ask for that, but, okay, here it is.” It’s a lot of bells and whistles.
It’s like, “Oh, yes, please, add drip marketing to the suite.” “No, just please give us the ability to search in a little bit better way that would really move a needle for us.” It’s funny but that happens quite often.
Outside of the general policy forum, the most popular section of the community is the Southwest careers area, focused on being employed by Southwest. Why do you think that is?
[00:26:43] Lindsey Duncan: I think because people love this brand. They are excited about Southwest Airlines. People want to know, anywhere they can get information about joining the Southwest family, they’re all about it. What really surfaced us last year was, we posted a flight attendant position externally. That doesn’t happen too terribly often. There was a lot of excitement, a lot of hype around this post going up. We had people who stayed up, truly like 24 or 48 hours in front of their computer, waiting for this position to post so that they could get in there, and be one of the first people to submit their résumé.
We knew that there was a chance that there would be so much traffic to the website that hosts the job positions that, potentially it could go down. It did. It went down for a while, and obviously people were really disappointed and wanting information about what happens next. I’ve been up for many hours in a row waiting to submit my application. I don’t know what to do now. The community became a really great tool that we were able to point people to and say, “Hey, we’re going to post information here, we’re going to post updates. We’ll answer your questions. We’ll give you the information that you need as it becomes available.”
I got together with some of our folks who work in the people department, which is our term for human resources. We hunkered down in a conference room and we just started answering people’s questions as they came in. I mean hundreds and hundreds of questions about the flight attendant posting, and just took them one at a time on the community.
We were able to pin information that was really useful to people, and update that pinned information as it became available and refer people back to it. The careers board really kind of made a name for itself in the community, the wider community of people out there who want to work at Southwest Airlines and it just kind of hang on.
Anytime people are interested in applying for Southwest Airlines, they find their way over to the careers board. To this day, we have people from the people department who get in there and respond to questions about applications.
[00:28:42] Patrick O’Keefe: I was going to ask, you obviously came from the social side before this, and this might be covered by the Southwest social media policy, but do you ever bump into employees in there who are not you know badged and designated and it’s not necessarily even a part of their job, like someone who’s just a flight attendant, or a pilot, or you know some random Southwest employee pops up in the forums because they want to be or they’re there, or they’re reading something and they respond to it?
[00:29:10] Lindsey Duncan: Occasionally. I’ll tell you a funny story. We had a guy who found the community, was super pumped about it, loved it. He actually was such an avid user that we invited him to be a Community Champion. On the day he became a Community Champion, he also received a phone call from Southwest Airlines, the people department, offering him a paid position.
He became an employee. He had to bow out of the Community Champions program because it’s not open to employees, but it was funny. He’s our shortest ever tenured Community Champion. He was a Community Champion for a day. We do occasionally see other employees drop in and answer a few questions and then move on about their way. I think there’s kind of an understanding that this is a place really for our customers to get together and talk to each other, and have a community.
There are other spaces where it’s appropriate for employees to communicate back and forth with each other, but because our employees are such great people, enthusiastic about their work and always eager to help our customers, it’s not uncommon to find one drop in and help some people out and then move along.
[00:30:15] Patrick O’Keefe: Have you had it happen or have you taken the step where someone who was a part of this program was actually hired by Southwest because of their visibility in the community or they’re good with customers and it’s like, “Well, we do have this role and you’re obviously good with customers.” Has that happened yet?
[00:30:32] Lindsey Duncan: Not exactly in the way that you’re mentioning there, but we did have one of our very early super users was really heavily involved in any question that people had about traveling with kids. She was always on the ball, always had great answers.
She applied to be a flight attendant, and then reached out to me when she put her application in, and said, “Hey, would you mind writing a letter of recommendation because we’ve been acquainted over the course of several months. You’ve seen my work. You’ve seen the way that I respond, et cetera.” I was, because at that point we did have a professional relationship back and forth on the community, so I was able to speak strictly to the content that she had created on the community and that it was good, that it was quality. She did end up getting hired by the company.
[00:31:21] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s great.
[00:31:21] Lindsey Duncan: Yes.
[00:31:22] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s a great way to stand out to demonstrate your knowledge before you even go there. Lindsey, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. I really enjoyed it.
[00:31:31] Lindsey Duncan: Patrick, I really enjoyed being on the show. Thank you so much for having me.
[00:31:34] Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with Lindsey Duncan, senior specialist on the social business team at Southwest Airlines. For the Southwest Airlines community, visit southwestaircommunity.com and Southwest Airlines at southwest.com.
For the transcript from this episode, plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad and Carol Benovic-Bradley is our editorial lead. We’ll see you next episode.
If you have any thoughts on this episode that you’d like to share, please leave me a comment, send me an email or a tweet. If you enjoy the show, we would be so grateful if you spread the word and supported Community Signal on Patreon.