The Colleen C. Barrett Institute for Cultural Excellence & Customer Service

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Humankind: Leading with Empathy

At Southwest Airlines, we are known for putting People first. As our beloved Colleen says, “Everybody has the right to be treated with respect, and everyone should be required to treat others with respect.” Our Company Values focus on how we show up each and every day, and one of the best ways to establish a genuine rapport with each other is to lead with empathy.

Empathy is defined as the ability to recognize and understand the feelings and experiences of another person, which in turn helps us to strengthen relationships and build trust. This is key for our Team, as we are often the Customer’s first contact with Southwest Airlines. Customer Support & Services (CS&S) is responsible for handling all aspects of the reservations process, as well as solving problems “in the moment,” and responding to high-volume inquiries via various communication channels. It’s so important to be thoughtful caretakers of these conversations. 

I have learned over time that the best way to do this is to listen without the need to immediately respond. Instead, we should be listening to gain understanding. During times of operational disruptions, for example, using active listening skills, acknowledging feelings, and remaining present for the conversation all demonstrate empathy and allow for a connection to be made. What was once a bad experience for a traveler can be turned around by showing empathy and delivering compassionate service with love (or LUV, as we call it).

 Empathy allows us to focus on the needs of others and ensure that they feel they are being heard. In the CS&S department, we created a new theme this year – “Start with Heart!” We encourage all Representatives to approach every conversation with an open heart and to assume positive intent with each interaction. Our Team demonstrates empathy for our Customers through active listening, meeting people where they are, and ensuring they feel welcomed, cared for, and appreciated. After more than 50 successful years in business, we have learned that the Heart is always the best place to start!


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James Ashworth

Vice President Customer Support & Services

View Thought Leaders Recommended Resources

Do you have questions for our Southwest Leaders about what it means to Lead Well? For a limited time, you will have the opportunity to submit your questions for a Southwest Thought Leader to answer in our next Virtual Fireside Chat.

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