How WestJet Keeps Customer Service Sky-High

Tyson Matheson shares eight steps that helped his airline win an award for best flight attendants in Canada

Since its founding in 1996, WestJet Airlines has grown from 220 employees to more than 9,000, and Tyson Matheson has been there since day one. Today, he manages the in-flight department, which is responsible for everything that happens in each airplane cabin. He also works to ensure that the airline’s 3,000 flight attendants are happy—because happy employees lead to happy guests.
Since its founding in 1996, WestJet Airlines has grown from 220 employees to more than 9,000, and Tyson Matheson has been there since day one. Today, he manages the in-flight department, which is responsible for everything that happens in each airplane cabin. He also works to ensure that the airline’s 3,000 flight attendants are happy—because happy employees lead to happy guests.

1. Define and perpetuate your culture

While many things have changed since WestJet’s founding in 1996, the company’s culture hasn’t. “We’ve always believed in having a caring culture and an ownership mentality, and that culture has persisted as we’ve brought people on,” says Tyson Matheson. As the vice president of in-flight learning and development, he’s directly responsible for passing that culture down to the airline’s 3,000 flight attendants. He must be doing something right, too, for the staff was recently voted as Canada’s best on FlightNetwork.com.

2. Cultivate an ownership mentality

“We all take care of things that we own better than we do things that we don’t own, and a company is no exception,” Matheson says. In keeping with this idea, WestJet allows employees to contribute up to 20 percent of their gross pay into a share-purchase program. The company then matches the contributions 100 percent and allows the shares to be vested in after just one year. Because of this, most WestJet employees—86 percent—are shareholders in the organization.

3. Care

Matheson was still in university when he joined WestJet, but he has learned over the years that relationships are everything. “You can accomplish almost anything if people believe in you and each other,” he says. To that end, the company’s motto is “We succeed because I care,” and Matheson attributes WestJet’s success to how much the company shows that it cares each and every day.

4. Make the employee and guest experiences the same

Caring, according to Matheson, has two facets: “We’ve always tried to have the guest experience and employee experience mirror each other,” he says. “The way we want flight attendants to treat guests is the way we treat flight attendants. It shows them what a good customer experience looks like.”

5. Empower the flight attendants

“There’s no one better to manage the cabin experience than flight attendants, so we give them the ability to rectify problems then and there,” Matheson says. When the company was smaller, flight attendants would go to the gate, make a phone call, and have the agent on the other end of the line fix the problem. As WestJet has grown, however, that has become harder and harder.

Last year, the airline found a solution in “care cards.” “If there’s a guest-experience failure, or if the flight attendant just wants to do something special for a guest, perhaps because the guest’s child is in the hospital, the flight attendant can fill out a care card specifying the remedy, from sending flowers to setting up a future travel credit,” Matheson explains. “The attendant can e-mail the card, text it, or drop it off at the airport, and we’ll execute it via a facilitation team we have on the ground.”

6. Have visible leadership

WestJet’s management team spends a significant amount of time in front of the employees, which is particularly difficult given how transient the workforce is. The team holds monthly town halls, and if there are big changes coming up—such as the company’s recent move from a single base in Calgary to three in Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary—the members hit the road. “That’s a tremendous change,” Matheson says, “so we did road shows across Canada in which we talked about the relocation and made sure flight attendants had a chance to validate their concerns.”

7. Engage with employees

Matheson posts a weekly or monthly YouTube video to inform flight attendants of what’s going on instead of making them read an announcement. He also lets them engage in the conversation. “They can post comments or ask questions within our WestNet system, which is important when you’re trying to instill a nonhierarchical structure,” Matheson says. “Employees have to have access to the leadership team, whether it’s me or the CEO.”

8. Keep innovating

When WestJet was smaller, the caring mentality was automatically perpetuated. “We had a lot of technical training that focused on how to deal with a problem, but believe it or not, we didn’t have any training on guest experience,” Matheson says. As the airline has grown, however, its leadership has realized such training is necessary, and two years ago WestJet began providing it.