Prior to the losses reported in 2021, Southwest Airlines enjoyed a long history of success and had consistently ranked highly in customer satisfaction surveys. However, no company is perfect and the winter storms of 2022 have shown that to be the case for the airline.

Many are conducting real-time analysis on the primary cause of the Southwest debacle, suggesting its “point-to-point” business model and the scheduling system to be the major culprits. While those are key, I believe an equally critical factor is its shortfall in prioritizing its customers and the experience (as well as the pilots, crew members, and staff) as effectively as it could have.

Below are a few thoughts in the form of a case study on where #Southwest may have failed to prioritize the #customer and optimize its systems and processes around the #customerjourney. I’ve also included specific ways in which #nonprofit organizations can apply the insights from the case study.

Case Study: Southwest Airlines’ Cancelled Flights and Customer Dissatisfaction

Between December 22nd and December 29th, Southwest Airlines experienced a series of flight cancellations due to its “point-to-point” business model that offers more direct and convenient flights for passengers, allowing them to travel between two cities or regions without the need to connect through a larger hub and technical issues with its scheduling system. This led to widespread disruption and inconvenience for passengers, many of whom were left stranded for days on end or had to rearrange their travel plans at the last minute. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that Southwest struggled to communicate effectively with its customers and provide adequate assistance during the crisis. As a result, the airline has faced backlash from disgruntled passengers, pilots, crew members, staff, the federal government, and negative media coverage.

Situation Analysis:

Southwest is a low-cost carrier that has built its brand around offering reliable, convenient, and affordable flights to its customers. However, the recent spate of flight cancellations and the inadequate response from the airline has called into question its commitment to these values. Many passengers were frustrated by the lack of information and support they received from Southwest during the crisis, and some reported being left on hold for hours when trying to contact the airline’s customer service.

In addition to the immediate inconvenience caused by the cancelled flights, the situation also has longer-term implications for Southwest’s reputation and customer loyalty. With numerous options available to travelers (including other carriers who experienced significantly lower flight cancellations), a negative experience with an airline can lead to a loss of business in the future. The negative media coverage of the situation also has the potential to damage Southwest’s brand image and discourage potential customers from choosing the airline in the future.

Root Causes:

There are several factors that contributed to Southwest’s failure to prioritize the customer and optimize its systems and processes during the crisis. One possible root cause was a lack of investments in and contingency planning for its ever-expanding “point-to-point” model. It is not uncommon for airlines to experience technical issues that lead to flight cancellations, and having a robust plan in place for handling such situations could have helped to minimize the disruption and inconvenience for passengers. It is obvious that Southwest has neglected to make significant investments in its tech systems and possible that the airline did not have sufficient contingency measures in place to deal with the scale of the technical issues that arose, leading to widespread cancellations and a lack of alternative options for affected passengers.

Another potential root cause was a lack of effective communication and customer service. Many passengers reported feeling frustrated and frustrated by the lack of information and assistance they received from Southwest during the crisis. It is possible that the airline’s systems and processes for communicating with and supporting customers during times of disruption were not sufficiently robust or efficient to handle the volume of inquiries and requests it received.

Finally, it is possible that Southwest’s focus on cost-cutting and efficiency may have compromised its ability to prioritize the customer experience. While low-cost carriers like Southwest have been successful by offering competitive prices and streamlined operations, this focus on cost can sometimes come at the expense of service quality. In this case, it is possible that Southwest’s decision to prioritize cost-saving measures, “narrow [its] near-term technology focus and defer a significant number projects in response to the COVID-19 pandemic” over customer experience contributed to its failure to effectively handle the crisis and address the needs of its affected passengers.

Lessons for Nonprofit Organizations

Nonprofit organizations can learn a number of valuable lessons from this case study of Southwest Airlines. Here are some specific ways in which programs and program teams can apply the insights from this case study.

1. Develop contingency plans: Like for-profit businesses, nonprofit organizations may also experience disruptions or challenges that can impact their operations and the people they serve. Developing a robust contingency plan can help a nonprofit organization to minimize disruption and continue providing services to its clients, team members, volunteers, partners, and funders.

2. Prioritize communication and customer service: Good #communication and customer service are key to building trust and strong relationships. Nonprofit organizations should make sure they have effective systems in place for communicating with and supporting the people they serve, especially during times of crisis or disruption.

3. Balance efficiency and effectiveness with customer experience: While it is important for nonprofit organizations to be efficient and effective in their operations, they should also prioritize the needs and experiences of the people they serve. This may involve investing in better training and support for staff, improving services and amenities, and being more flexible and accommodating when it comes to addressing issues or concerns.

4. Be transparent and accountable: Nonprofit organizations should be transparent and accountable in their operations and decision-making, and should make sure they are effectively communicating with and engaging their clients. This may involve providing regular updates and reports, being open to feedback and input, and being responsive to questions or concerns.

5. Invest in technology and innovation: Nonprofit organizations can benefit from investing in technology and innovation in order to improve their operations and better serve their clients. This may involve adopting new tools or systems to streamline processes, better manage resources, or enhance services.

6. Have a plan for crisis management: Nonprofit organizations should have a clear and effective plan in place for managing crises or disruptions and communicating with their stakeholders. This may involve establishing a dedicated crisis management team, establishing clear protocols and procedures, and using multiple channels to communicate updates and information to stakeholders.


In conclusion, this case study of Southwest Airlines highlights the importance of prioritizing the customer experience and optimizing systems and processes around the customer journey. By balancing efficiency with customer experience, improving communication and customer service, and developing a robust contingency plan, Southwest could have minimized the disruption and inconvenience caused by the technical issues and better addressed the needs of its affected passengers.

For nonprofit organizations, this case study serves as a reminder of the importance of putting the client first and considering the entire client journey, from start to finish. By developing contingency plans, investing in communication and customer service, and prioritizing the needs of the people they serve, nonprofit organizations can better meet the expectations of their clients and improve outcomes.

To learn more about developing a clear customer strategy, see the article, “Client Strategy: Delivering Distinctive Value and Experience,” for some suggestions.

“Focusing on the customer experience requires a new management perspective, where the variety of touchpoints in which customers engage with a product or service, directly or indirectly, are recognized as comprising multiple experience components. When these components are targeted effectively by the organization, managers can increase the perceived value customers attach to their product(s) and/or service(s).”

— Hodgkinson et al., 2021

Hodgkinson, I. R., Jackson, T. W., & West, A. A. (2021, February 8). Customer experience management: Asking the right questions. Journal of Business Strategy. Retrieved December 30, 2022, from

Putting the Customer First: Southwest Airlines Case Study

Dec 30, 2022