The Business of Business Is Still People
By Heather Figallo, Senior Director, Innovation, Design and Entrepreneurship, Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airline’s founder, Herb Kelleher, famously said, “The business of business is people.” With that, comes the principle that taking care of employees first, will inspire our employees to provide customers with an outstanding experience, which will ultimately benefit investors.
A recent and successful example of this was a system of new digital signage installed inside the terminal at Dallas’ Love Field in partnership Southwest Airlines’ Innovation Center and Lab.
Bringing Back the Joy of Air Travel
The two-week test, signage system included 73 digital screens and designed to free employees from answering routine and redundant questions. This gave more power to customers as they had information provided to them at the right time.
One frequent question we are often asked by customers is “where is my connection?” By creating a system that is more customer-intuitive, they have found a faster way to information regarding their connecting gate. This enables a stress-free experience so that time can be spent enjoying amenities at the airport.
The test was created to address customers’ most pressing flight needs and designed to enhance the employee experience as much as the customer experience. Our goals:
• Provide precise, trustworthy, accurate information for both parties
• Give our customers greater peace of mind when traveling
• Make customers and employees alike feel welcome, cared for and appreciated
• Use our physical space effectively
• Empower our employees to provide the highest service level
1. Function first. Each sign answered the fundamental question, “what do I need to know right now?” Easy-to-find concise, accurate, personal information provided the answer.
2. Human-centered design. In human-centered design, the user is the expert, and there is no preconceived solution. We used feedback from the testing to refine the designs for the permanent solution.
3. Provide location-appropriate information. When the customer first walked into the airport, our signs provided a broad level of information and became more granular as passengers walked closer to their gates and the jet bridge.
In addition to the signs, we offered a mobile app with relevant information based on understanding where they are in their day of travel.
4. Brand voice. After several tests, the human approach — with a touch of humor — emerged as the most popular tone for the signs, which is very much in line with the Southwest brand. For example, in addition to telling passengers their flight was boarding now, the sign would read, “run! we’re cheering for you!”
5. Research. Our prescriptive methodology used several methods of testing, including employee roundtables, digital surveys, prompted feedback, before-and-after data comparisons and customer “travel-alongs”. In the travel-alongs, we met customers at security and walk through the terminal with them, asking them for stream-of-consciousness impressions of the signs: “How does this make you feel?” “Do you feel like you have the right information?” “Do you feel less stressed?” or “More stressed?”
6. Technology. We incorporated location services, video analytics, data sciences and interactive elements, which are new to Southwest Airlines but proven in other industries.
7. Simplicity. The best advice? Keep it simple! In a complex world full of new technologies and information overload, simplicity wins.
Extending the program
The test results were overwhelmingly positive for both Customers and Employees. We are now in the process of permanently implementing portions of the program at Love Field. In addition, the success of this program has given us traction and momentum to keep updating and elevating the customer and employee experience.