How Southwest Airlines’ HOST Team Leverages Event Tech
With their whimsical attention to hospitality and dedication to making people feel comfortable, Southwest Airlines is beloved for bringing humanity back to air travel. But for the last five years, the company has taken this core value to a whole new level with the help of their Hospitality Operations Support Team (HOST). This small but mighty crew strives to infuse hospitality-driven best practices across both the employee and customer experiences.
As you can imagine, ensuring the consistent rollout of HOST initiatives organization-wide is no small feat for a brand that serves a whopping 130 million customers annually and has more than 60,000 employees. We spoke with Southwest’s Kristen Francis and Christina Quintero to learn more about the program, how the airline is leveraging events for the associated training efforts and why event tech has been a game-changer when it comes to connecting the dots.
Team Attendify: Hi there, and thanks for chatting with us today! First off, tell us a little bit more about the HOST Team and its mission. Let’s start with this: What’s the difference between customer service and hospitality?
Kristen Francis, Southwest Airlines: In a nutshell, we think of customer service as more of a transactional process, and hospitality as a feeling. We define hospitality as when our customers and employees feel welcomed, cared for and appreciated.
Christina Quintero, Southwest Airlines: For example, we like to make connections with our customers that fly us weekly. Hospitality is not just knowing that Bob flies back and forth from Dallas to Houston every Tuesday. It’s understanding that he also has a wife and two kids, and that when he flies outside of his business trips, he likes to go to Florida and take his kids to Disneyland. It’s getting to know our customers on a deeper level.
The HOST Team works with multiple teams and departments to ensure that best practices in hospitality are consistent across the company … that we’re all working at the same Southwest.
Team Attendify: How are you using events to internally communicate these hospitality best practices?
Kristen Francis, Southwest Airlines: At Southwest we put our employees first, because we believe that if we’re taking care of our employees, they’ll take care of the customers. For the past four years we’ve been using events to bring our hospitality messaging to Southwest’s more than 60,000 frontline employees. During these one-day Hospitality Summits, team members hear from company executives, cultivate tools that can be used to provide hospitality to both customers and coworkers, and even get a chance to learn what works and what doesn’t from customer panels. Each event brings about 500 employees together.
Team Attendify: You all started using the Attendify event app to power your summits about a year ago. Can you give me some insight into how doing so has changed your event communications strategy?
Kristen Francis, Southwest Airlines: Prior to using an event app, we would send out emails and print a booklet to communicate the event agenda and details. But we didn’t really have a digital outlet for speaker bios and descriptions, or a way for attendees to connect with each other in one centralized place.
Now, when we send out the Summit invitation, we also invite attendees to download the app. Many download it right away and start posting comments and questions on the activity stream before the event even takes place.
At the event, people love taking selfies with leaders and execs, and post them in-app. There is also quite a bit of excitement around the social wall, which we display during breaks. The Push Notifications feature allows us to send out communications like a morning welcome message or reminding everyone one it’s time to start back up after breaks.
Christina Quintero, Southwest Airlines: Actually, during the Atlanta Summit there was a hurricane, and we used Push Notifications to get information out to attendees about a delayed start time. That was a hit.
Kristen Francis, Southwest Airlines: With the event app, all the content and communications are centralized; everything [attendees] need is at their fingertips. When we first introduced it, some people were worried about what the adoption rate would be, considering we were only holding one-day events.
Christina Quintero, Southwest Airlines: But then we were really taken aback by how many attendees embraced it, no problem. We received great feedback. At our Atlanta summit, an attendee comment was “The Attendify app allowed us to connect with people who we didn’t have time to meet in that space. It allows the tech-friendly attendee to engage without having to interrupt the flow of the Summit.”
At the Las Vegas summit, 90 percent of attendees surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that the Attendify app was user friendly. Employee feedback showed that they thought it was a great tool to connect with their Southwest family before, during and after the event.
Team Attendify: Was the event app helpful from a cost-savings perspective?
Christina Quintero, Southwest Airlines: As I mentioned, before we started using the app we would print a big booklet for each event with the agenda and speaker bios. We probably printed more than 1500 of those, and at the end of each summit we would pick up all the books that people didn’t take and throw them in the trash. Now we’ve slimmed that down a lot. And given our proven success [with the app], in the future we don’t need to print an agenda at all.
Kristen Francis, Southwest Airlines: Cost savings is a big factor. The app has helped to drastically increase efficiency. It takes time to create those agenda booklets. We have to work with our Communications team, come up with the creative, print them and ship them. The hotel has to store the boxes (more costs). The fact that an event app can digitize all the information in one place was a big win for us.
But the biggest theme is the increased employee connections the event app fosters. Summit attendees are often coming from different locations, and those that hold similar positions want to meet each other. It’s a jam-packed day with minimal breaks, and before we started using the app there wasn’t a whole lot of social time. Now the app allows them to private message each other and get to know each other via the activity stream.
Christina Quintero, Southwest Airlines: We see people posting, “Hey, who is going?” Or “We’re going to dinner here if anyone wants to share a Lyft.” There’s a lot of camaraderie.
Team Attendify: You also used Attendify’s registration platform. How did that go over with your event team and attendees?
Kristen Francis, Southwest Airlines: Attendees found registration easy to navigate and — as the owner of this piece — the backend reporting was easy too.
Team Attendify: Thanks so much for your time Kristen and Christina! We can’t wait to see how the HOST Team further leverages event technology to improve their event experience.