Memorable WOW Experience Held Together by Coffee Stir Sticks

It’s an occupational hazard of keynoting, consulting, and writing about customer service that my friends and family feel compelled to share all of their customer service nightmare stories. I’m really not complaining. I merely mention this as a set-up to a story shared with me by my son.

Before I get too far into my son’s story I have to offer a spoiler alert. This actually is a positive customer experience story AND it offers some important lessons for all of us seeking to drive customer loyalty.

Last week my son got married (which is very odd since I remember bringing him home from the hospital and certainly that couldn’t have been that long ago). Back to the story…

Within 24 hours of my son’s wedding in Colorado, he and his bride hopped onto a plane to return to Chicago. They were traveling on Southwest Airlines on what is purportedly the “busiest travel day of the year.”

At the gate prior to boarding, my son and his wife attempted to pay for a boarding upgrade. For those who don’t travel on Southwest, boarding is primarily based on your check-in time and seats are first come first serve. In essence those who board in the A group have more seat choices than those who board in the B or worse yet — the C group.

As my daughter-in-law approached the gate agent to buy an upgrade, she showed the agent her boarding card in the 41st position of the C group and noted that she hoped to sit with her newly-wedded husband. Unfortunately, no boarding upgrades were available for purchase. Resigning themselves to be separated in middle seats for the duration of the flight, the couple prepared to board with their designated group.

This is where the people of Southwest shined. The boarding agent called my son and daughter-in-law up to board with families needing assistance (prior to the B boarding group) enabling the young couple to sit together. Toward the end of the trip, the flight attendants announced the newlyweds over the loud speaker, and adorned them with crowns made of peanut bags attached by coffee stir sticks (the bride also had a toilet paper veil).


In relating the story, my son noted “we felt like royalty and it wasn’t about whether we had the money to be frequent flyers with Southwest, they did it because they were caring people who put themselves in our place.”

Setting aside that this happened to members of my family, let’s look at 5 quick lessons all of us can take from this memorable customer experience…

  • Great service is about empathy – It involves putting yourself in the position of your customers
  • Being kind is the most inexpensive way to consistently create memorable experiences. (Southwest gives away peanuts anyway – so there was no added cost for the crowns.)
  • People will remember and talk about you when you practice small acts of caring. (When my son posted this story on his Facebook page he had as many likes for the story as he did for their wedding pictures.)
  • Positive experiences and fun drive strong emotional connections. (Southwest is known for empowering their people to be playfully themselves.)
  • Every customer deserves to be treated like a “king” or “queen” whether those people can spend like one or not!

Are you customers sharing stories about you like the one I just shared about Southwest? If not you might want to make a crown out of coffee stir sticks and peanut bags…

Smoke over black background

Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli


  1. Natasha Mayton on January 21, 2016 at 11:50 am

    I can say that I had a nearly identical experience with Southwest 10 years ago. My newlywed husband and I were at a Southwest gate, less than 24 hours after getting married, and we were also were left to the middle seats. However, it was a coordination of the kindness of the Southwest staff and other passengers that allowed us to end up next to each other on our way to our honeymoon. Way to go Southwest for staying consistent.

  2. Susan C. on January 26, 2016 at 11:59 pm

    And you didn’t let us know you were here? ?

  3. Joseph Michelli on April 21, 2016 at 8:26 pm

    It was a busy, albeit blessed trip!

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