Dreamforce 2019 - accessible travel information takes off at Southwest Airlines with Service Cloud

Jessica Twentyman Profile picture for user jtwentyman November 21, 2019
The airline has rolled out Salesforce Service Cloud so that all passengers and contact center agents can access the travel information they need, regardless of disabilities.


When an airline passenger encounters an issue with their travel plans, accessibility of information and help is their number one priority. The same is true for the contact center staff who deal with their enquiry.

At Southwest Airlines, a recent roll-out of Service Cloud from Salesforce aims to keep both passengers and frontline agents fully informed, as efficiently as possible. James Ashworth, Vice President of Customer Support and Services, explains:

There are about 15 applications that our agents in our contact centers need to access to help customers. One of the things our CEO continually challenges us on is being more efficient as a company, and the way we thought to do that in the contact center was to find a piece of technology that could leverage the data held in those 15 applications and bring them to the forefront, to enhance the user experience for our contact center agents.

But what we found was that this became much bigger than just a desktop improvement initiative. It became more of a customer experience initiative, that just so happens to make life easier and more efficient for contact center agents, too.”

Keep chatting

Today, data is surfaced to agents via a Service Cloud-based console. So far, Southwest agents are using the console to hold live chat-based conversations that passengers can access through the airline’s mobile app. This capability was launched in February this year.

What’s great about this, said Ashworth, is that agents can handle two or three chat conversations at a time, so one of the metrics they are now measured on – alongside more traditional metrics around average call handling times and first-time resolution – is concurrency.

With chat now under its belt, the team at Southwest is focusing on phone calls. Today, if you click on ‘phone’ in the Southwest mobile app, you may or may not reach an agent working through Service Cloud. So far, around four contact centers are using the platform to handle calls, but by the end of the first quarter of 2020, every phone call will be handled via the platform, he said. Email and social media will be next on the list.

The controlled roll-out is important, because as each new channel comes online, Ashworth and his team learn lessons that they can carry over to the next channel:

As an example, when we first launched chat, we soon saw that many conversations came from business users who needed a receipt for their flights. But we didn’t have a slick way to provide those. It was an ‘aha moment’ and now we’re implementing a button for agents on Service Cloud to send a customer their receipt quickly and efficiently.


Accessibility, meanwhile, lies at the heart of this project. Having a range of communication options clearly benefits passengers who are visually or hearing impaired. The chat function itself is also tailored for accessibility.

That means that Southwest can offer the same level of service to all passengers – but it also enables the airline to make working life in the contact centre easier for employees with disabilities. Service Cloud works with screen readers, and offers keyboard shortcuts and high-color contrast, so that employees who are visually impaired can easily navigate the Lightning Service Console. As Ashworth, who himself is visually impaired, puts it:

We want to be the most loved airline in the world, and the world includes people with disabilities. As someone who’s visually impaired and using accessibility tools in my personal and professional life, I knew we needed a partner who was as passionate about accessibility as we were.

The roll-out also required significant input from frontline Southwest agents, both sighted and visually impaired, who participated throughout the requirements capture and testing phases. As Ashworth puts it::

It’s about our people being able to drive what the service console looks like for them. It’s about a diverse group of employees sitting down with us at headquarters and really telling us what they want their experience with this toolset to look like. If our employees feel confident that we listen to them, they feel more confident and empowered to deliver the right type of customer experience.


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