4 Strategies to Improve Customer Experience in the Airline Industry

4 Strategies to Improve Customer Experience in the Airline Industry

Though many of us may enjoy out-of-town excursions that require a flight, we’re often a little less enthusiastic about the thought of the airport or the in-flight experience. Thankfully, there are leaders in the airline industry who understand this and are working tirelessly to improve both of these experiences.

In today’s episode, you’ll hear from Karen Ellis, the Chief Customer Officer of San Antonio airport, and Sonya Lacore, Vice President of Inflight Operations at Southwest Airlines. Both women share how they assessed the work that needed to be done to improve customer and employee relations.

Strategy #1: Unite Vendors, Employees, and Leaders with One Vision

As CCO of San Antonio airport, Karen’s focus is to unite the vendors and companies that work together at the airport to ensure a seamless experience for customers. When Karen first joined, she was introduced to the teams by the airport director but wanted to maintain a personal connection to the employees and the work by explaining her approach, which she viewed as follows:

  • Don’t just change things, be thoughtful in your approach. Karen asked, “if something has been done one way for so long, why not try it another way?” or “what are your thoughts about us doing it this way?”
  • Think about the greater good. Karen made sure she had buy-in before any changes occurred to ensure people were on the same page about what would be happening and that it was for the greater good of the airport
  • Be proactive and get feedback. Karen continuously walks the airport to take in the visuals and experience it creates. At the same time, she talks to passengers and employees to get feedback.

Strategy #2: Develop a Short-term plan for the Long Haul

4 Methods for Improving Customer Experience in the Airline Industry

Within the first 30 days of Karen’s new role, she developed a 30/60/90-day plan to transform the company’s customer experience. In the first 30 days, Karen’s goal was to attend meetings and briefings and listen. She introduced herself in these meetings and shared how she wanted to work together with the leadership teams. Karen learned about the challenges stakeholders were experiencing and how the challenges could be mitigated. Her first 30 days focused on relationship building while assessing the state of the airport.

In addition to listening to stakeholder and peer feedback, Karen created rigor around the voice of the customer. She collected customer comments, which were presented to the greater team at the airport. She then asked how they could create a plan for improvement.

The 60-day plan focused on improving employee experience and behavior. Karen created a training initiative to improve the behaviors of all individuals who effected the customer experience. The trainers were in-house, which meant they had more visibility on employees’ day-to-day behavior with customers. In addition, access to knowledgeable in-house trainers helped employees who had questions about specific airport procedures. The trainers had a more meaningful impact and effect in creating a unified vision of how it feels to interact with customers in the airport.

The focus of the 90-day plan was to identify the identity of the airport. Karen wanted passengers to experience San Antonio at the airport, to see the rich history that San Antonio has to offer. For Karen, it was important to layer in different cultural references at the airport, allowing people to feel a closer connection to the city. Cultural integration is a unique component of customer experience because the airport is a place that accommodates such a diverse crowd.

For Karen, it was important to layer in different cultural references at the airport, allowing people to feel a closer connection to the city. #CX @SATairport Click To Tweet

Gartner, a research and consulting firm, defines customers experience as “the customer’s perceptions and related feelings caused by the one-off and cumulative effect of interactions with an organization’s employees, systems, channels or products.” Karen’s 30/60/90-day plan addressed each of these aspects, especially as they relate to a customer’s perceptions and feelings.

Strategy #3: Change the Us Versus Them Mentality

As Vice President of Inflight Operations at Southwest Airlines, Sonya Lacore oversees the planning and scheduling of flight attendants. Sonya ensures flight attendants have the proper training to conduct flight operations in a safe and compliant manner, while also offering an excellent customer experience.

Sonya initially assessed the work that needed to be done to improve the in-flight CX based on her personal experience as a flight attendant. As a flight attendant at Southwest, she noticed an “us vs. them” perception between the frontline (flight attendants), and the leaders. She was compelled to be a Southwest leader so she could break down these barriers and change this attitude. As the VP, Sonya was committed to communicating to flight attendants that they are respected, loved, admired, and they can remain authentic. In my book, “ Would You Do That To Your Mother?”, this is the type of behavior I refer to as blending humanity and caring into customer experience. We need our humanity to show through in how we do business with customers and with each other.

Strategy #4: Recognize Employees and Involve Them in Company Initiatives

In an effort to bridge the gap between the frontline and leaders, Sonya’s focus was to build employee recognition. She quickly realized the value of getting to know your people — understanding their passions and even what makes them tick. Sonya understood that people respond to positive reinforcement. As a result, she decided to put programs and operations in place to recognize employees as people and their contributions to the company.

Additionally, Sonya and her team have worked hard to give the frontline a voice in more business decisions. For example, they created a Flight Attendant Strategy Team (FAST), consisting of roughly 50 attendants who serve on a committee for a two-year time frame. These attendants are given projects to improve CX, and they are recognized for their contributions to the company. One of the projects involved designing new uniforms. Who better to have insight into how to design a uniform than the people wearing them? We must always remember to give our employees a sense of purpose and the courage to believe in themselves.

Both Karen and Sonya have shared strategies with us that aim to unite employees and create behaviors that enable them to thrive. How do you honor your employees and show up as a company that cares?


The presenting sponsor of The Chief Customer Officer Human Duct Tape Show is Customerville. Customerville transforms customer experience surveys into rich, interactive experiences using its unique Design-driven Feedback™ platform.

This partnership ensures that I can continue these shows that you’ve shared such positive feedback on.  Thanks so much to Customervillle! Enjoy the show!

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