Southwest Airways Simply Made a Large Resolution. Will Passengers Agree It is Sufficient?
It’s about Southwest and the Boeing 737 MAX. And it all comes down to a single word:Trust.
You will remember, although it may seem like an old story, the 737 MAX was grounded worldwide last year after two accidents that killed 346 passengers.
The FAA this week canceled its no-fly order on two versions of the 737 MAX (which Boeing will refer to as the 737 MAX 8 and 737 MAX 9). With Southwest Boeing’s largest US customer for these aircraft and 34 of them in storage for 20 months, the airline was faced with an important decision.
Should the 737 MAX keep flying? And if so, should it run a rebranding campaign to redirect passengers from a name that has attracted so much negative publicity?
First, the decision to keep flying seems like a resounding yes for the Southwest.
Top executives from the Southwest expressed their confidence in the 737 MAX aircraft last week and hoped to return to passenger service in April. They wouldn’t fly the plane if they weren’t sure it was safe now.
Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest, even promised to fly them himself before passenger service next month.
As for a rebranding that seemed to be on the cards not long ago, the answer seems to be no.
Kelly said Southwest will “absolutely” continue to refer to the aircraft as the 737 MAX for the foreseeable future, and Southwest has dedicated a portion of its website to that topic and named the 737 MAX.
“We bought the 737 MAX 8 and we’re proud of the 737 MAX 8. … I think our customers are smart … [W]We do not intend to change the name, “added Southwest President Tom Nealon:”[W]We will very clearly refer to it as the 737 MAX 8. There is no hiding place for the ball. “
This rebranding term wasn’t just an academic discussion. President Trump took to Twitter to say he thought the 737 MAX should be renamed. And it seemed like Boeing was heading towards that decision in a sales report at some point.
However, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun also said a name change would be “kind of silly,” and the Boeing website and latest press release continue to refer to that737 MAX.
Let’s make two important points about the southwest. First, the airline only flies 737s, and while there is always the possibility that this will change, their brand is strongly tied to Boeing’s.
Second, there are different variations of 737 aircraft. B.Aside from the 34 “737 MAX” aircraft in its fleet, Southwest also has 713 other, older variants of the 737 that were not affected by the FAA regulation.
It remains to be seen how customers will react to the return of the 737 MAX. There have been polls that suggested some flyers would avoid this, but that goes back more than a year, and the 737 MAX has been somewhat out of sight and mind since then.
The pandemic has also overshadowed everything else in the aviation industry. But if Some passengers may not want to fly the jet. Southwest says he’ll try to accommodate her. And I think that shows why the decisions here boil down to figuring out which strategies generate the most trust.
Regardless of what product or service you sell, customer trust is your most valuable asset. Smart customers are quick to spot attempts to trade that trust for a fleeting advantage.
When that happens, be careful: things can fall apart very quickly. That would be the real risk for Southwest or Boeing here. If both of them try to simply fly the same aircraft with a different name, they run the risk of passengers losing confidence not only in the 737 MAX, but in its brands as a whole.
The only real option was to stop flying the 737 MAX indefinitely, or be 100 percent sure that they are now safe aircraft – and then fly them proudly and boldly to win customer trust one by one.
It goes without saying that I hope this works, both for reasons of passenger safety and because so many jobs and other economic factors are related to the success of Southwest and the 737 MAX.
I Also hope that your company will never face such an existential challenge. But if you do, remember what Southwest and Boeing seem to have recognized here.
There’s no real shortcut to building trust with customers, but there sure are plenty of ways to lose it quickly. Trying to document problems by giving a new product a new name may be one of the fastest.
The opinions expressed by Inc.com columnists here are their own, not those of Inc.com.