Southwest Airlines Loyalty Is Still Aloft

December 7, 2016

 

Next month, I’m traveling to Pittsburgh to visit one of our clients. Of course, I’m mostly looking forward to the trip because like all of our clients, CHROME FCU is an exciting, forward-thinking organization.

But I have to confess: I’m also looking forward to using the free drink coupons Southwest Airlines sent to me last week out of the blue.

Although I admire Southwest’s business model, I don’t particularly enjoy flying the airline. Many Southwest passengers don’t travel often, so boarding can be slow and the atmosphere is decidedly Common Folk. I’m only semi-joking when I refer to the airline’s fleet of Boeing 737s as Toyota Corollas of the sky. They ain’t fancy and they’re so loud when they land, they sound like they might break apart, but they get the job done and their efficient.  And, I hate to say it, but Southwest’s service isn’t what it used to be. Employees are sometimes surly and grumble about airline policies and staffing levels, something I never experienced during the Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett years.

Thanks to security and aging infrastructure, flying isn’t the glamorous experience it used to be. I’m among the minority of passengers who still dresses up when I fly. I dream of the day when private jet timeshares expand to the point of reasonable affordability. That day is coming and I. Can’t. Friggin. Wait.

So why am I flying Southwest? Those drink coupons.

Southwest took the time to notice I’ve traveled with them recently (only two trips in three months) and leveraged that business into a marketing opportunity. Plus, they know their audience. For all my snobby private jet talk, I’m easily influenced by the promise of a tiny bottle of Jack Daniels and some cheap wifi. You can take the girl out of Kansas …

I’ve also flown on American Airlines and Frontier this year, but I haven’t heard squat from them. So when it came time to book my flight to Pittsburgh, I paid more to go with Southwest. (Although, when you add up the luggage fees and the much higher charges for wifi and refreshments, it’s probably a wash.)

The message for credit unions? Like air travel, financial services are pretty much a commodity. Rate and fee shopping isn’t as common as it used to be. Customer experience is king. If you aren’t engaging directly with your members on their birthdays or this Holiday season — and most importantly, after they book a new loan or other service with you — you’re going to lose future business to another provider that does.

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