Oct 31, 2011
James Patterson

What I Learned About Caring for Clients from Southwest Airlines

I detest air travel. It’s a rare occasion where I have a “good” experience while flying. Between my knees getting sore from being scrunched into a small seat to feeling like cattle herded into and out of the barn, it’s just not my favorite way to get from point A to point B.

Recently, while on a plane for a family trip so the kids could see the grandparents, I had one such experience.

Flying with two toddlers is hard enough as it is. So when we boarded a 3-hour flight and my wife was seated next to an oversize passenger who wasn’t required to buy an extra seat (the armrest wouldn’t fold down and he required a seat belt extender), my wife found herself sitting with our 2-year old on her lap in the row with me and the kids. Suffice it to say it was a very long three hours.

When we landed, the social media obsessed person that I am, I took my displeasure to Twitter.

What happened next taught me a lot about what it takes to keep our freelance writing clients happy.

Respond Quickly and Without Getting Defensive

I tweeted my displeasure about the flight minutes after getting off the plane. The stewardesses on the flight couldn’t have been less concerned about my wife’s discomfort, and I was pretty upset. Within minutes of my Tweet, a Southwest representative tweeted a reply, apologizing for the incident and asking to contact me directly.

How’s that for customer service? In less time than I would have spent on the phone waiting for some nameless operator to pretend to care about my concerns, I was contacted by a Southwest representative. I felt appreciated, and I felt like I mattered.

Don’t forget that you’re the service and your client is the customer. While there may be certain situations where it’s worth it to stand up against the client, in most situations (especially with your best, highest-paying clients), it’s best to just stand up and say I’m sorry for screwing up.

Go Above and Beyond in Offering a Solution

After listening to my experience and apologizing again, the Southwest rep immediately offered to refund my wife’s ticket. I’ll admit, it’s not what I expected. I thought maybe I’d get a credit for a future flight or something similar.

But there it was, just a few days later. A full refund of my wife’s ticket on our credit card statement.

Exceptional customer service (and again, remember that your clients are your customers) involves going above and beyond. It’s about creating an experience the client is not going to forget. Something they’ll store away in their memory and recall later, thinking “Oh yeah, that’s why I keep using this freelancer.”

When you go above and beyond in making your clients happy, you stand out from the crowd.

Always Have an Ear to the Ground

Southwest knows how to do social media. They have customer service reps constantly monitoring Twitter for keywords that indicate unhappy passengers. That’s how this rep came across my tweet.

Do the same for your clients, but in a different way. Anticipate their needs by being in tune with what they’re looking for. Catch problems before they become a problem. Be hassle-free. Make it easy for them to do business with you.

Will I think about Southwest airlines first before booking my next flight because of this experience? You bet. And your clients will think about you first when you do the same for them.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Plyon757


  • Wow – that is such an interesting story! I’ve never thought about ‘tweeting’ my frustrations about my consumer experiences. It’s amazing to think how social media is changing the playing field and providing us with greater access and information. No doubt, businesses are going to have to be more accountable to their shortcomings as consumer expectations rise. Good lessons for freelance writers for sure!

    All of that said, I’m a phobic flyer. So I probably wouldn’t have even noticed the oversized man or the flight attendant’s indifference ;-)

    I pretty much neglect my five children (and my husband) when we fly together. And when they glance over and see me in the fetal position, crying during the take off – they are happy to be neglected!
    Ruth – The Freelance Writing Blog recently posted..Are You Making Any of These 11 Career-Killing Freelance Writing Mistakes?My Profile

    • Yeah, Twitter really is the go-to place for customer service these days. With so many companies getting hammered on the Internet when it comes to ticking off customers, the *smart* companies are always on the lookout and putting out potential fires before they go viral.

      And I know my wife always has a harder time flying than I do, which is why I volunteered to take the kids in the row with me. With Mr. Oversize came into the picture, though, it was two adults and two kids crammed into three seats. No fun!

      Thanks for stopping by, Ruth!

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This little corner of the Internet is for anyone who's looking to start a freelance business while holding down a real job, wondering how to jump from part-time freelancing to full-time or looking for freelance writing information in general.

My name is James Patterson. You can learn more about me here.