Southwest: the airline brand with heart

September 23, 2014

Earlier this month, media outlets were aflutter with news of Southwest Airlines’ brand refresh.  Focusing more strongly on the human centered aspects of their brand, Southwest has applied a new coat of paint to their aircraft and much more. A new tagline, logo, signage, kiosks, aircraft visual design and advertising campaign has brought the pioneer of low-cost, egalitarian flights back into the headlines. But there is one thing that I am happy to see they haven’t changed: the politeness and enthusiasm of their employees.

I work in new business development. My job is largely emailing and talking on the phone. Most of the time, prospects are expecting to hear from me. One of my biggest frustrations is when we get to the proposal point, I send the requested document and I don’t hear back from the person. No “Thank you.” No follow up. Just crickets. What’s even worse is when I follow up and I can’t get the previously responsive person to even emit any signs of life. What happened? Did they not get my email? Did I forget to include the attachment? Did I offend them? Questions abound. I know it is often the case that the person is giving me their answer by not responding. But after having built a nice rapport, it feels at a minimum impolite to not respond, but most of the time it feels flat out disrespectful. It makes me feel small and non-human. Now I know that feeling goes with the job, but a little “thanks but no thanks” note would go a long way in making me feel like my time and effort wasn’t wasted, even if the project doesn’t move forward. I can handle an honest “no” a lot better than an evasive non-answer.

In a recent exchange with Southwest, I had completely the opposite experience. Every now and then, I see something in the news and find myself reaching out to people whom I have never before been in touch. When it comes to cold contacting, I don’t expect a response. I certainly don’t have time to respond to everyone who solicits me. So, the other day, after seeing Southwest’s announcement of the new brand, I reached out to see if there could be any opportunity for us to help them with managing all of the new brand assets that have been developed. Our extensible Brand Ensemble offering seemed like a great fit. I looked up and wrote to two contacts via email. I was blown away by what happened.

Not only did I get a response the very same day, but both responses were also cheerful, positive, and thanking me for my thoughtfulness, even while letting me know they already have a program in place that they will continue to use. Both of these women did not know who I was, yet they took the time to acknowledge me as a human being and helped me out. One even suggested I get in touch with a coworker who would be responsible for looking for new providers should they ever be reconsidering their brand management system. I have never been so happy with a rejection email in my life.

It was the living embodiment of the Southwest brand promise of having a heart. Of knowing that “people are its most powerful fuel,” as its newest ad proclaims. Of understanding that customer service and brand reputation building doesn’t just matter in the delivery of your services by your flight crew, but it matters along ALL brand touch points. Even when dealing with a soliciting brand innovation firm.

The head of our employee engagement practice, Larry Oakner noted in a previous blog that “The employees who can make or break a brand are often times not the ones facing customers.” While I don’t know about these marketing executives’ ability to break their brand, when they took the time to dash off a quick reply to my inquiry, they certainly helped build the Southwest Airlines brand to be that much greater. Whether you consider it having a heart or just simply having good manners, treating everyone like they are human beings can make a powerful impression.

What other brands do you think do a great job of living their brand promise through and through? Which companies have the best manners? The worst? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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