Free to move about the cabin

First off, let me make clear that I’m a huge fan of Southwest Airlines. When I travel, they are my first choice for an airline. The price, the company culture, and common sense methodology that they use to run a business impresses me everytime.

But two separate things have come up about SWA in the past few days that all marketers (and Southwest) could take a lesson.

1) People don’t like change…even GOOD change
When I was a child, my grandmother would sit at the kitchen table to make out a grocery list. She would mentally go through the store and write things down in the order that she would come to them. One day we went and they had re-set the store. It threw her system off and made her mad.

I was extremely familiar with the SWA website. I knew where everything was. Then I logged on the other day and they had redesigned the website. I can see the new website is a much better design. Frankly, I think it’s a lot easier to use. I would have advised Southwest to change the old site to the new one. But part of me doesn’t like the site.

People get used to what they’re used to. It’s simple enough, but we forget that. I think it’s a good sign that people get upset when you change things. It means that they’re invested in the site and they view it as “their website”. When you change things and no one makes a fuss, you’re in trouble.

2) Sometimes cleverness can go too far
I primarily deal with the company through the web (see above). But today, I had to actually call the airline to deal with a unique situation. The rep was friendly in the typical Southwest way. And she told me she had to put me on hold for a minute or two. Her demeanor was so good that I didn’t mind.

And then I started listening to the on-hold message. In one of my seminars, I spend a good chunk of time talking about marketing on-hold messages. I may call SWA back and have them put me on hold so I can record an example of what not to do.

The message started with some of the type of cutesy things that you hear from the flight crew when you fly and then they had a recording of someone calling the customer service line. The first time I heard ‘Southwest Airlines, can I help you?”…I started telling this new person that I was waiting for the 1st rep. And then I realized what was going on and felt crazy.
Then more cute.
Then “Southwest Airlines, can I help you?”. I started again.
More cute.
“Southwest Airlines, can I help you?” I paused…not sure.

And it went on like this for two or three minutes. When the real person came back, I didn’t say anything until she said “Mr. Houchens?”.

It was the most on-edge hold I’ve ever been on.

The cuteness and cleverness is one of the brand hallmarks of Southwest. And people (and I) love it. But, a surreal mobius loop of an on-hold message can freak you out.

Chris Houchens is a marketing raconteur & writer. Connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

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