Cut Corners, Lose Trust: The Southwest Story

I have been a huge fan of Southwest Airlines for many years. Its story as a maverick brand that fought conventional wisdom and built a profitable airline is legendary. But, the brand is now all grown up, and it is experiencing adversity that it rarely faced in the past. Earlier this week, Southwest had to ground more than 40 planes that had missed scheduled safety inspections. The inspections were done and Southwest resumed a regular flight schedule by the next day.

The Southwest situation illustrates the importance of maintaining customer trust. The cancelled flights were the least of the airline's concerns. It's a fact of life for seasoned air travelers. The long-term damage could be to Southwest's reputation. Consumers could perceive that Southwest is focused too much on either making money or cutting costs to take planes out of service temporarily and carry out inspections as scheduled. Let's face it, questions about safety are not good for any product, airlines especially.

For the first time in my 12-year "relationship" with Southwest, I find myself questioning the sincerity and integrity of the brand. It is a reminder that any person or any company that cuts corners in their relationships risk losing the trust of others. Southwest can use this negative situation to its advantage by evaluating its inspection and safety management procedures and make changes as needed. Or, this event can be harmful if the company puts too much energy into downplaying it.