WestJet holiday surprise: Customer service stunt or pure appreciation?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Canadian airline WestJet catapulted their customer service miles higher this past weekend. Sure thing, the budget-carrier has gone the extra mile and had their passengers abuzz and teary-eyed as they received what could be the most thrilling holiday experience of their lifetime.

The beginning, before boarding

As passengers in Hamilton and Toronto Airports stood waiting for their flights to Calgary, a giant video screen attached to a giant gift box captured their attention. And who wouldn't be surprised if Purple Santa himself (yes, he was not in red) would talk to you as if he's known you for a long time and cheerfully ask you what your Christmas wish is?

Without any notion of surprise or anything in return, the passengers answered Purple Santa. Everyone was honest. A kid wanted an Android tablet. A couple answered "big TV." One guy just wished for a snowboard. Some was a bit shy to answer; some just laughed and responded nonetheless.

Little did they know that the guys from WestJet are jotting down their wishes on paper. They never had an inkling that something big was coming.

While on board, gift buying

While the passengers fly comfortably aloft, about 175 WestJet employees and some volunteers in Calgary dashed to the nearby department stores to buy the wishes on the list. They only had five hours to buy these, let alone box and put labeled Christmas card on them.

The big reveal, surprise on the carousel

When the passengers finally arrived at the Calgary Airport, what welcomed them were not the customary airport greetings but queuing gifts on the carousel. The entire airport was filled with cheers, as Purple Santa greeted the astonished passengers. But what made the event remarkable was the pure happiness the simple gesture of the airline caused. Yeah, a kid was overly happy with his Android device, a woman was sent smiling by her new digital camera, and a pretty lady was caught teary-eyed.

Was it just a mere publicity stunt?

Come on, WestJet is a brand, and if it gave away Christmas gifts without asking anything in return, the gesture's sincerity would be hardly believable. The video mentioned the airline's brand name, the Santa was clad in their flagship color, and the video was well-produced (with fairytale-like VO and nice lighting). The mere fact that they uploaded the video on YouTube shows that the gift-giving was done for more than just simple emotional reasons.

There are naysayers, nonetheless. Queen's Associate Professor John-Kurt Pliniussen and Assistant professor Tandy Thomas said that they don't think people will switch immediately to the budget-carrier after the big surprise. But WestJet is successful in one aspect that might convert their competitor's supporters into theirs. WestJet successfully embedded itself in the lives of customers. "So the purpose of the ad may not be to sell more tickets; it might be just to say, 'You know what—WestJet, we’re a feel-good company, '" Pliniussen stated.

But whatever's behind this holiday giveaway, be it for customer appreciation or not, what's more important is that it has made the passengers happy. When did we last see a group of people sharing unadulterated smiles in one single remarkable moment?

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