Southwest rebuilds reputation as the LUV airline
Southwest Airlines is scrambling to resuscitate its reputation after the recent operational failures that affected roughly 1 million holiday travelers.
Why it matters: Communications weren't the problem, but they're a key part of Southwest's solution.
State of play: Now that flight schedules are back to normal, Southwest is activating on the PR front by acknowledging, apologizing and taking action.
- President and CEO Bob Jordan has appealed directly to consumers through a flurry of emails and videos apologizing, sharing operational updates and providing details on refunds — more than 90% of which have been completed — reimbursements and extra Rapid Rewards points.
- He's also briefed key legislators, members of the media and industry influencers on what Southwest is doing to avoid such failures going forward.
- This external communications push is being mirrored internally too, the airline says.
What they’re saying: "Southwest will navigate this operationally, and communications will complement that progress from a narrative standpoint," chief communications officer Linda Rutherford told Axios.
- "We can refresh and rebuild that trust among our various stakeholders by being transparent and plain-spoken in terms of what we have learned and by showing tangible results of what we will do differently as a result."
Zoom in: Part of that action is an operations review committee appointed by its board of directors and an assessment by a third-party firm whose findings will be shared with key stakeholders.
The big picture: Southwest still ranks among the top three airlines — behind Delta and Alaska, but ahead of United and American — according to The Wall Street Journal's latest airline scorecard.
- Plus: The airlines says it is seeing a steady stream of booking activity — particularly among frequent fliers.
What we’re watching: All eyes are on Southwest’s earnings call next week, which should give some indication of the reputational damage, shareholder sentiment and state of consumer loyalty.
- We can expect them to firm up any fourth-quarter losses and provide context for current demand, revenue performance and any lingering financial impacts that spilled into the new year.
- We can also expect to hear about operational corrections for the near and long-term, plus a healthy dose of Southwest employee LUV — a behind-the-scenes look at all they did to support consumers beyond the DOT requirements.
The bottom line: You can be doing all of the right things to rebuild after an operational crisis, but unless it is boldly communicated to all stakeholders, brand loyalty could continue to suffer.