A few weeks ago, I had an issue with my flight home on Southwest Airlines back to Hartford. The details of what happened aren’t really important (though they make for a great cocktail hour discussion).  Suffice to say that my flight was delayed and I didn’t arrive home until much later than I had originally expected.Copyright 2009, Southwest, by express permission.

A bit later, I wrote Southwest Airlines an e-mail explaining what happened and asking them to look into the situation.  I made no demands of refunds or anything of the sort. Rather, I merely asked them to investigate the situation. Shortly thereafter, I received word back via e-mail that my complaint had been received and was being elevated to a particular division of customer service for a full investigation.

After a bit of time had passed, the most amazing thing happened: I received an actual phone call from a Southwest employee.

She explained that she had investigated my complaint and had determined that, essentially, what I described was true.  As a long-time customer service employee, she said she was surprised actually by the results of her investigation.  She indicated that it was an aberration and apologized for the inconvenience. She said that the company was taking steps to correct the issue and to ensure that proper procedures were in place to deal with the issue (should it reoccur) in the future. And lastly, she offered a travel credit and her thanks to me for pointing out the issue.

And that was that.  Case closed.

I relay this story because it struck me as a textbook example on how to handle communication with a complaining party in a workplace investigation — whether the complaint is of "harassment" or  improper procedures being followed.    (For another look at workplace investigations, in general, see an earlier post here.)

What did it do right?

  • It responded immediately to the complainant and informed the complaining party that it would investigate it along with a timeframe for its expected response. 
  • After invesitgation, it contacted the complaining party to let him know that the investigation had been completed.
  • It informed the complainant, in general terms, of the results of the investigation.
  • It informed the complainant what steps, if any, it was taking as a result of the investigation.
  • It thanked the person who made the complainant for coming forward and, if necessary or appropriate, apologized for what happened;
  • It took appropriate steps with the complainant to make that complainant whole again. 

Now, not each investigation will have this type of happy ending and there may be instances where such communication is impossible.  

But for the majority of situations, a company should try to followup with the complaining party about the investigation.  It could be the difference between closing the matter and getting a lawsuit later on.

  • lousie galvin

    great story, life imitating human resources best practices!!!!

  • Johnette Tolliver

    I travel with SW quite a bit and am pleased to know that if there were any procedural issues that I felt needed to be looked into, immediate action would be taken in order to correct the problems.