Great Brand Experiences: Southwest Airlines
It’s not often you put the word airlines in the same sentence as great brand experience but I argue that’s exactly what Southwest Airlines is.
Having flown quite a bit over the past several years on a variety of different airlines, I now make every effort to fly Southwest. I’ll go into a little detail about why I like Southwest so much, but the real testament to the great brand experience is that I’m completely at ease before and throughout my travel period.
That may not seem like a lot, but traveling is an inherently stressful period in which so many things can go wrong (overbooked flights, lost luggage, delays, etc) so this simple feeling is what sums up a great brand experience. It transcends the product or service itself and is the key to building undying brand loyalty.
So why exactly do I LUV Southwest so much?
No Cancellation Fees
It’s often difficult enough to plan out my day, let alone what I’m going to be doing in 2 months. But that’s about when you have to start booking airfare if you want to get a decent rate. It doesn’t matter if you own a small business, work for a Fortune 100 company or something in between, things change quickly. A vacation to Mexico can turn into work trip to Milwaukee in the blink of an eye. It’s bad enough that you won’t be lounging on the beach, but to lose $150 per ticket as a cancellation fee just adds insult to injury. That’s why I fly Southwest. While they don’t refund your money outright, they will give you a credit for the full amount you paid into a flight that you book at a later date.
How flexible are they on this policy? I once completely forgot about a flight until 3 days after it took off (in my defense, it was a work trip that was re-scheduled a couple times) and they still gave me the credit!
Bags Fly Free
You may have seen the commercials recently for Southwest with the tagline “Bags Fly Free.” In case you haven’t, Southwest’s policy is that you’re allowed up to 2 checked bags without being charged, an approach opposite to what has become the norm within the airline industry.
The Perception of Lowest Cost
It seems to me that people are under the impression that Southwest have the cheapest flights available. While I clearly wouldn’t dissuade anyone from flying them, I also know that they’re not the cheapest. And while they're competitively priced, there are several “no-frills” airlines that will beat Southwest on flight prices 9 times out of 10. That in itself is great branding.
As with most great brands, "the experience" actually starts well before you use the product of service as it's most tangibly known. The same is true with Southwest. Even in the airport, a place that most frequent travelers despise, they impart a few subtle touches that make the whole process easier. Take, for example, the boarding pass kiosks. Yes, most airlines have these nowadays, but Southwest always seems to have enough...because the last thing anyone wants to do before waiting in line to go through security is waiting in line to print out your boarding pass!
Another feature that I love about Southwest is the lounge chairs in the terminals. When it seems that airport architects worldwide neglected to account for the importance of having an outlet to charge your electronic devices, Southwest has not. And though it may seem like a small thing, anyone who's ever brought their dead iPod back to life pre-flight then happened to sit next to the crying baby knows how far that little bit of charge can go towards creating a better, if not great brand experience.
While I could go on about why I only fly Southwest Airlines, the important takeaway is how they created brand loyalty in an extremely competitive and price sensitive industry. By thinking through the entire brand interaction - not just the actual product or service use - they elevate the entire experience above the competition. Not only that, but they've earned themselves a vocal brand advocate who's not shy about shouting their praises.
Hopefully this post about Southwest makes you think about the potential pain points with your product or service beyond the immediate use, so you can start to create great brand experiences for your customers as well!