Southwest Safety and Service: A Social Business Opportunity

Southwest  Airlines grounded 79 of its older Boeing 737 aircraft for inspections after a hole opened in the roof of a similar plane over Arizona last week, forcing an emergency landing.

The 15-year-old 737-300 plane with a hole in the roof was outfitted with a large aluminum patch in Yuma, Ariz., where it landed last Friday on the way to Sacramento, where C7 Headquarters office is located.

After last week’s mishap, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered airlines to conduct detailed inspections of the same area on certain models of older 737s that have made at least 30,000 flights, and to inspect them again every 500 flights.

We had some travel planned on Southwest, Why then, was there no mention on Southwest’s website of it’s current safety concerns and how they might affect our travel?

In fact, this information is nowhere to be found on any Southwest online property with the exception of their twitter feed.

Southwest Airlines safety: Air masks deployed

(Credit: Shawna Malvini Redden/Twitpic)

What has this got to do with social business you might ask? What could be more important to Southwest customers like us than our safety and security? We need to feel protected and informed.  “Will I get sucked out of a depressurized cabin,” becomes an immediately greater concern than, “Will my bags make it to Austin?”

Here’s what we found while seeking reassurance and conversation with our fellow passengers:

  • No Southwest Airlines community where loyal customers are leading conversations with their peers.  No transparent bridge from hosted online engagement to public platform conversation.
  • An embarrassing lack of engagement from Southwest on their Facebook brand page
  • Twitter, however, is monitored and posts updates regularly.  Questions concerning recent inspections, etc. point folks to the static one way communication of these press releases on the Southwest News page. Youtube and Flickr lie quiet except for the obligatory battery of promotional photos and video.

Inclusion is the brand management tool of the company of tomorrow.  It’s the more agile path to identifying the experts that can devise a solution that mitigates risk while still building brand loyalty. Social business is about including people and improving customer loyalty and satisfaction through two way authentic communication.

Social business is a new concept, however, a major brand like Southwest Airlines no longer has an excuse for not informing and engaging properly.

Southwest Airlines brand loyalty flight attendantsAre you prepared for your “Southwest Airlines” moment?

You are a brand. There’s a critical event. What does your brand do? Are you using social technology to it’s fullest to come through the experience with higher customer satisfaction and employee engagement?

Using the C7 Social Business Framework™, we’re able to easily imagine how a brand or large organization benefits from using social techniques, especially during a crisis.

Our framework is strategic: Technology, tools and tactics come later. It is also “cyclical” and meant to be used for continuous improvement.

C1 – Culture

Ask yourself, is everybody in my company responsible for customer service and marketing yet? What is my organization command and control structure? Do we have cross functional teams?  How is information shared in real time? Who are your “stars”? Who are our customer advocates? How do we measure things like revenue, cost and innovation for social initiatives?

C2 – Communication

The FIRST thing you’re going to need to get a handle on in a crisis is communication. If you’re an airline like Southwest, no doubt you have had similar public relations nightmares. Is there a communication plan in place that provides synchronous two way real time communication  between employees, customers, partners, news agencies etc. that acts as “one source of truth?” What we mean is, there is no conflicting information and there is  a  publicly transparent and secure platform.  Are Facebook, Twitter, your online community and your website all synced up? It’s possible.

C3 – Connection

Our vision, in hindsight, is an immediate Southwest Airlines rally of  Influencers and Brand Advocates. Not only is this the way for Southwest to internally connect to it’s best experts, but also the way for customers to connect to the most experienced frequent fliers that are “in the know.”

C4 – Collaboration

Who does your panic button call?  How can Southwest work smarter by immediately turning on the temporary process and procedure that an exception to the rule, like a crisis, demands? The ability for a virtual, real-time Situation Room exists.  Use it.

C5  – Community

Southwest has it.  They just don’t make it work for them.  There is no reason why a great brand like Southwest can’t have community participation just like Nike or Intel.  Build Community to handle customer support. Build community to report on progress. Bridge the Internal and External community information at will and tie it together with social business.

C6  – Costs and Cycles

Eliminate Costs and Cycles. Get the planes flying faster. Get people to talk about the next big thing faster. Get people their refunds faster. Rebook flights faster. Get meal tickets quicker. Get Flight Updates Faster.

C7 – Change

There doesn’t have to be a crisis to make the change to becoming a social business, but our Managing Director, Mark Bean says,  “It’s a painful temporary event that can really spur permanent cultural change.” After the crisis is over think about the hearts and minds of all parties concerned. What did Southwest Airlines learn? Where were the gaps? What can be measured? Let’s not do it again, at least not that EXACT way.

C7  builds solutions that can bridge and synchronize public and private, internal and external communications with ease.

How would you help Southwest become a better social business?


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1 Comment

  • Wow. Great write-up Jeff. And this is strikingly unusual for a brand that is usually very in-tuned with it’s customers and focusing on friendly, above and beyond service. Being a Texas native, I was always high on the Southwest brand not only because they are HQ’d in Dallas but because I always had, and heard, great experiences with them. This is a bit of a shocker.

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