Southwest Airlines is the largest low-cost carrier in the world. It’s also regarded by many as the most customer-focussed. Its culture and robust customer experience strategy has kept the brand flying high, raising the bar for other CEM companies around the globe.
Heather Figallo is their Senior Director of Innovation, Design & Entrepreneurship and she presented at Customer Experience Innovation & Tech Fest this year. We caught up with Heather during the event to talk about her CX journey and her particular passion for innovation and agile thinking to support the business.
Heather, we are so glad to have you at CX Innovation & Tech Fest. What motivated you to make the trip out to Australia from the USA for this event?
The story of connecting the dots of technology and customer service is quite personal and I’m looking forward to sharing it with this great CX community. It’s a story that enabled me, through tragedy and heartbreak, to understand the power that everyday people have to make a difference in this age of technology. I’ve been fortunate enough to translate a passion of mine into a career and nothing excites me more than to be surrounded by like-minded, passionate people!
Tell us a bit about your journey in the CX field. What do you love most about your job and this space?
I truly believe in Southwest’s purpose: to connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel. Read that again, to connect people to what’s important in their lives. That’s a powerful message, and it’s full of opportunity to ask questions; to try new things; to seek different perspectives; to push the envelope on what should be expected. I love learning and I love creating. I love being part of something bigger than myself. The position I hold at Southwest allows me to be all of those things.
Southwest Airlines continues to be one of the world’s leading CX organisations. How has the organisation harnessed the power of innovation and agile thinking to deliver an awesome customer experience?
Besides seeking input directly from our customers, we rely on our employees to lend invaluable insight to customer pain points, as well as their own. We have our very own customer service experts and they have amazing thoughts and ideas on elevating the customer experience and adding true hospitality in the mix. We have specifically identified six stations where we have offered training for employees to not just be advocates for innovation, but to be innovators themselves. I’m excited to share some of those examples in July!
What are your top tips to help operations and commercial teams see their similarities rather than differences?
The key is to find the sweet spots where both sides of the organisation overlap. Much of it is perspective. What inherently might be good for the customer could have an indirect benefit to the operation. The ability to make direct connections to all mutual benefits is what is essential.
You talk about taking baby steps – helping the underserved areas of the organisation for quick wins. Tell us more.
Opportunities definitely exist for quick wins if you keep your eyes and ears open. Your front line people are the closest to pain points, and as a leader, you should have access to tools that can provide quick solutions. Remember, they don’t have to be huge technology overhauls to make a difference. Something as simple as generating a daily report can make a huge difference to someone on your front line. I love going after the “underserved” or neglected groups first. It’s such fun to see the bigger, more supported groups become envious of a new capability that an underserved group has created. Then, it’s a pull strategy that ends up creating a ton of demand, instead of me pushing the innovation agenda, the business is asking for changes…“What I see is what I want.”
What are your top tips for leaders in CX to succeed?
- Schedule time to spend in your customer’s element regularly. Sit there and watch and observe. What are they doing? What are they NOT doing? What does the organisation want them to do? Are they doing it? Why aren’t they doing it?
- Become part of the front line team. Be visible. Be interested in their tasks and ask questions.
- Take your knowledge and resources and make connections that might not be readily apparent. Patterns exist; you just have to see them.
About the Speaker
Heather currently serves as the Senior Director of Innovation, Design & Entrepreneurship. She is responsible for leading the discipline of innovation as well as the newly formed labs group which develops prototypes and other stimulus for Customer and Employee feedback.
Heather joined Southwest Airlines in August of 2014 as Product and Innovation lead in the Commercial Team. During her tenure at Southwest, Heather launched the Customer Experience Team within Marketing and was the Business lead on the Customer Experience side of the CX / Ops strategy development. In October of 2016 she moved to Corporate Strategy & Innovation to launch the Innovation Center and Lab. The Innovation Center’s charge is to create idea flow that supports the Corporate Strategy. The Innovation Center does this by inspiring innovative and agile thinking, directing innovation work through best practices and accelerating the work through the agility of labs.
Prior to joining Southwest, Heather’s worked in Advertising, Digital and Innovation Agencies. During that time she led global initiatives for ExxonMobil, Coca Cola, American Airlines, P&G and many other Fortune 500 brands. When not brainstorming at Southwest, Heather can be found enjoying the outdoors with her husband Luis and their four children.