What we did
It’s said that if you want to go fast, you should go alone, but if you want to go further, go together. While that’s often true, some partnerships have a special something that makes it possible to go both further and faster than anyone anticipated.
Known primarily for friendly, reliable, low-cost air travel, Southwest knew that it wanted to continue to expand B2B offerings to position itself for the future. Leadership saw this as a pivotal opportunity, allowing them to continue their journey to remove friction while creating a world-class business travel experience. To achieve this ambitious goal Southwest would need a partner that was able to fully mesh with the company’s culture and ways of working.
Slalom joined Southwest on its journey of expansion, launching a Salesforce system integration partnership that outstripped everyone’s expectations.
Charting a path toward a digital landscape
Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, Southwest currently offers flights from 121 airports across 11 countries. Commencing service in 1971, the airline is now one of the most admired and awarded in its field. With an employee-first culture, Southwest focuses on empowering its people to deliver the best hospitality to its customers.
From its roots, Southwest was a business-focused airline with exceptional hospitality. As technology evolved, so did Southwest, though it lagged behind in adding technology that business travel decision-makers needed to serve their travelers. However, in 2019, that changed as the airline made a concerted effort to bring the “Southwest Effect“ to the business travel industry with the launch of Southwest Business Assist.
Strongly positioned as the world’s largest low-cost carrier, the airline knew it could offer the same level of customer-obsession and hospitality to a broader audience. In 2022, for instance, over 80% of airline bookings were completed via a website or mobile app, effectively eliminating most human interaction. Southwest wanted to reposition itself as the carrier of choice in this new digital landscape while retaining their industry-leading hospitality and customer service. Chief sales officer and executive sponsor Dave Harvey had a vision for that differentiation—one that would allow the business to not simply keep pace with competitors but leapfrog over them with technology and service.
To get there, Southwest needed to build a top-of-the-line, self-service portal to connect corporate travel managers directly to Southwest to track accounts. Historically, corporate travel managers received quarterly reports to track progress toward their targets and were reliant on phone calls and emails for support from the airline. Customers found it challenging to proactively manage their funds and partner benefits from Southwest, causing frustration and risking customer loyalty.
With a long-standing, customized solution already in place, Southwest knew using Salesforce was the smartest move to get the company where it needed to go. The team needed a Salesforce System Integrator (SI) partner with a deep understanding of Salesforce products. That’s where Slalom stepped in.
Keenly attuned to the Salesforce ecosystem, Slalom gave Southwest a clear path forward. “It wasn’t a question of the platform. It was who was going to be able to help them bring their vision to light,” says Ryan Gilmour, Slalom managing director. ”We came in with a persona-based approach, tagging in our own corporate travel managers to join the meetings and speak about their experiences and needs. We led with human-centered design and experience,” Gilmour says. “Dave Harvey looked at us and said, ‘Are you all looking forward to being in the room with us?’ And we looked at him and replied, ‘We can’t wait.”
And just like that, the teams were ready for takeoff.
We’ve delivered this work in such a concerted partnership between Salesforce and Slalom and Southwest. We just delivered five major releases in 14 months. That doesn’t typically happen at this scale.
Flying high together
As we embarked on this partnership, the culture match between Southwest and Slalom was evident from the outset. It was a shared belief in the power of putting people first, coupled with a drive to understand customers’ needs, that allowed the two teams to easily function as one.
“Slalom is a people-first company. Our CEO is so passionate about customer love that we have our own index for it,” explains Gilmour. “I’ve never seen two corporate cultures feel so aligned from the highest executive down to the individual team member. It allows us to bring a higher level of speed.”
With the essential elements in place, the team set about building the Southwest Business Assist travel portal. The MVP had an ambitious set of features and customization to create a self-service portal designed to not just replace the existing systems and manual processes but truly dazzle Southwest’s internal and external stakeholders.
Together, Southwest and Slalom created a solution driven by Experience Cloud, Service Cloud, Tableau/CRM Analytics, and Conga.
The travel portal provides business customers and partners access to real-time information, analytics reporting, and benefits to improve efficiency and communication. Corporate travel managers and travel management agencies now have an on-demand portal that delivers simplified management of partner benefits, enhanced insights into contractual benefits, account performance, and dashboards. The portal also offers automated sustainability reporting as well as automated contract lifecycle, account, and request management.
The relationship between Southwest and Slalom was essential in the solution-building process. “We’ve delivered this work in such a concerted partnership between Salesforce and Slalom and Southwest,” Gilmour says. “We just delivered five major releases in 14 months. That doesn’t typically happen at this scale.”
Launching a customer love solution
The airline’s first release in May 2022 was to members of the Southwest Business Influencer Board, composed of travel decision-makers from some of the airline’s top business accounts. They were a critical part of the process, as they agreed to provide regular feedback and guidance. “That engagement helped prioritize future features. At each phase we’re going live, we’re giving them what they have been requesting of us via this champion’s network,” says Slalom senior director Raymond Juarez.
Slalom delivered training curriculum to customers and Southwest account managers to ensure influencers were prepared and confident in their ability to conduct business in the portal from the outset.
Since going live, 58% of flight upgrade requests have been fully automated. And since the launch of the MVP, 47% of support requests have come from the portal, which means Southwest now has the information required to service an initial request. The travel portal covers over 106 business capabilities across case management, contracts, and analytics, giving Southwest and its customers data insights to improve decision-making.
With the Southwest Business Assist travel portal, over 5,000+ corporate travel managers and travel management companies can manage their contracts, use their benefits, and automatically fulfill travel-related requests for their travelers. It has automated over 20,000 requests since launch and continues to enroll more corporate customers.
“Southwest Business Assist is a transformative tool for corporate travel buyers and business travel decision-makers,” says Harvey. “It makes back-office operations more efficient and helps them track their sustainability reporting—a huge win.”
With Southwest Business Assist now available, the Southwest Business team can spend more time providing next-level hospitality while continuing to welcome more business travelers to Southwest Airlines.
The sky’s the limit
Both customers and Southwest are now making decisions with ease thanks to newly accessible data. This combination of robust cloud solutions allows the airline to automate many tasks, improving the employee experience while simultaneously allowing account managers to focus on people-first loyalty-building with the account directly.
With these expanded services, Southwest continues to increase market share and its competitive standing in the US marketplace.
“With Southwest Business Assist now available, the business team can spend more time providing next-level hospitality while continuing to welcome more business travelers to Southwest Airlines,” Harvey says.
And Slalom and Southwest aren’t finished going further and faster together. The next step is partnering to bring new and differentiated B2B solutions that continue to put Southwest forward as an innovator in business travel.
Slalom is proud to help Southwest on the journey to create a frictionless experience, while putting self-service capabilities into the hands of travel managers. The sky is truly the limit to what’s next.