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Southwest Airlines Made a Big Mistake
Ultimately, it’s not about the widget you sell. It’s all about the experience you provide your guest.

I used to be a very loyal Southwest customer. In fact, I made my way all the way up to A-List Preferred. I loved the low fares. I loved the ability to snag a double row exit seat with my preferred boarding privileges. I loved the flight accuracy. Needless to say, I was a big fan.

But then, I bumped into a grumpy Southwest employee at Midway airlines who soured my experience. When I asked this person if there was any chance I could change my super-delayed flight, they responded with: “No, can’t you see a long line of people wanting to do the same thing?”

At that point, I had hoped my A-List status would open the door to an exploratory search for additional options. But that Southwest employee didn’t care what my status was—they only cared about the fact that it was a stressful day for them.

Unhappy with how that situation was handled, I tried American Airlines.

I knew it would take me some time to build up status. I make about 50 trips a year, and my agency makes about another 200 more. I knew I would get close fairly fast. I loved the Admirals Club. I loved the fact that status actually bought me some kindness. But, still a loyalist, I kept my relationship with Southwest active.

While my status dipped a little, I figured they would keep me locked in A-List as they searched how many flights we booked. Thus, I was pleased when I received an email stating that in 2017, I was once again A-Listed.

But then, Southwest (with climbing fares and more delayed flights on their side), made a mistake. They sent me this email (yes, they put a period in the subject line to add a little more flavor to their punch):

Subject: We're sorry - Incorrect 2017 status email.


Dear Nicholas,

Today you received an email that incorrectly stated you had earned A-List for 2017. This email was sent as a result of an error in our year end processing for A-List status. Unfortunately you did not earn the status reflected. We recognize that receiving this email from us may have caused confusion and/or frustration, due to its inaccuracy regarding your 2017 status. For that, we offer our sincere apologies.

We admit this isn't the best way to start the New Year. That said, we appreciate your understanding when we make a human error like this one.


Your friends at Southwest

Human error? Come on. You had the chance to have a human win by still sending out this email and letting those who you sent it to know that you are doing something good.

What is the point of sending this when you already gave me status (and, clearly, others)? Because at A-List Preferred, I didn’t see much change in my status—and with A-List you are simply allowing a frequent flier to board a little earlier. What would have been your cost to let those you sent that email to continue to be happy with your brand? Very little.

Would old Southwest have done this? The best customer service airline in the world? Probably not. New Southwest, with climbing fares and discounted service, definitely would.

This, in my opinion, is where businesses fail to win. It’s not about the widget you sell, it’s all about the experience you provide your guest. You could have stopped sending me mailers for credit cards and oodles of free drink tickets and instead kept my status at the bottom of your loyalty system (looking at the scope of the flights we booked, too). But you didn’t. Customer service error followed up with a failed email.

In a world of content marketing and social media, I will probably get a response to this – or at least know it gets in the hands of the right people at your airline. Is this a threat to stop booking with you? No. Convenience and value is how our agency will book most of our flights. I just hope it makes you think the next time you send out a crappy email to pause and weigh the costs of trying to keep customers connected to your brand.

For now, though, I am going to go as full American Airlines as possible. My hope is that they will continue to welcome me with open arms and celebrate me, in the little ways, as a customer.