Word of Mouth marketing (WOM) is a bit like the Superman of campaigns. Nothing can stop it. That’s because the company the campaign focuses on has little or nothing to do with the effort. It’s all customer driven. People recommending products they love straight from the heart — with no interference from the marketing folks — can easily make a product go viral.
But a bad WOM is equally tough to squelch, often generating reputationally-treacherous stories like the ones many U.S. airlines are often party to. Remember United Breaks Guitars (viewed 11.5 million times so far), or the Top 10 Reasons the Northwest pilots missed Minneapolis?
To me, WOM really comes home when I think of Southwest Airlines, the brainchild a few decades ago of Herb Kelleher and Rolin King. I tell people that I fly American and Southwest almost exclusively, but if Southwest Airlines flew to all my travel destinations, they’d corral all of my business, despite the slightly longer drive to MDW. Why? It’s so simple … flying Southwest I mean.
Southwest makes choosing a destination and a fare easy. When I have a question, no matter how silly, the Southwest folks answer the phone when I need them. And when it comes to loyalty, they’re nice to me there too, something that hit home as my wife and I began the age-old process of planning college visits for my high-schooler. Buying three tickets to hopscotch out west isn’t cheap, so I opened my frequent flyer kitty to look for help. Trust me, 39,000 points at American doesn’t buy much. Of course, if American, or Iberia or whoever it was I flew to France a few weeks ago would actually credit the miles to my account, AA might be a little more useful. Where are you when I need you Cranky Flier?
Let’s see, as a reward for reaching Platinum status on AA, my miles allow me to depart LAX for the trip back east to ORD at either 0130, or 0600. Imagine the deal if they DIDN’T like me.
On SWA’s Rapids Rewards page, it was clear pretty quickly that my mileage bank account would cover flying all of us to California and part of the way south once we left Berkeley … and at hours normal people want to fly … and non-stop no less. If there’s a seat on a Southwest flight, I can have it. What the heck … a few more clicks and I bought the remaining tickets on SWA too. How could I not?
Truly, it’s not the drink coupons, or the birthday card they send me though that keep me loyal. The Southwest Airlines people are just nice folks. In fact, I can only remember one crabby Southwest employee in all the years I’ve flown them. And of course, they run a pretty cool blog, Nuts About Southwest, that you really ought to be following.
What customers want is a consistent product; a good travel experience at a fair price and employees who seem to realize that their airline’s success is interwoven with that of their customers. Not many airlines know — or even seem to care about that anymore.
Now AA.COM … about those loyalty miles I’ve been chasing you for over the last month about …
Rob Mark, publisher