Southwest Airlines now wants customers to do something they may find laughable

When you're desperate for business, is this the best thing you can do? Right now?
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer
Person walking down aisle of airplane

A good idea? Or perhaps not? 

Susumu Yoshioka/Getty Images

When things go wrong, it can be hard to set them right.

Somehow, after you perpetrate one big mistake, you end up perpetrating several others without even trying.

That seems to have been the case lately with Southwest Airlines.

First, the airline let hundreds of thousands of people down by canceling their flights over the Christmas period.

Then, the airline tried to blame everything on the weather, when it was patently clear the main fault lay with Southwest's own technology. 

In particular, the software's complete ossification and incapability of coping with a major weather event.

But why not compound the errors? Southwest then went on to communicate with all the innate sensitivity of a tech CEO, so much so that even its own pilots wondered whether accountants were the best people to run an airline.

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You'd think, then, that Southwest would cogitate very carefully before saying, well, anything to its customers.

You'd also think that the NFL should replace its Super Bowl game ball with a mango.

Only the other day, I received an excited, exciting email from Southwest. The subject line was breathless in its enthusiasm: "You could still earn up to 125,000 Rapid Rewards bonus points." 

I could? I had no idea. What had I been missing? This sounded like quite a few bonus points. Wait, was it another inducement to sign up for an airline credit card that I definitely didn't want?

I couldn't help but open the email. Seconds later, I couldn't help but emit a sniffle and snort. 

The first line of the email read: "You can still earn up to 125,000 Rapid Rewards bonus points by referring eligible companies to Southwest Business!"

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Don't you adore that exclamation point?

Of course I had to pause. This was the airline that had completely wrecked so many people's travel plans -- and had even caused CNBC's Jim Cramer to scream at its CEO that clearly Southwest hadn't invested remotely enough in technology.

Now it's trying to get its customers to act as its corporate sales agents?

This is akin to George Santos asking Baruch College to contribute to his next campaign, after he'd suggested he'd been a volleyball star there. (He wasn't.)

Why would Southwest customers want to recommend the airline to companies? Wouldn't the customer stop and think: "Southwest would likely make a lot of money out of corporate business. And it wants to give me 25,000 points to help them secure it? Right now?"

Imagine the conversation between a customer and, say, a friend who's also CEO of a company:

"Hey, I really, really think you should book Southwest for all your corporate travel."

"I really think you should visit a medical professional."

At the core of this begging is that Southwest has lagged behind the likes of United and American when it comes to corporate business.

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A year ago, Southwest actually allowed Kayak to feature its fares in the latter's business listings -- something that never happens with consumer listings. Southwest has always refused to allow comparison sites to feature its fares.

Still, you might think Southwest could at least acknowledge its recent shortcomings in this sales email. But no.

The rest of the email was a host of terms and conditions. Sample: "Use the form linked below to refer each company's travel decision maker to Southwest Business. You could receive 25,000 bonus points for each company that completes the referral process, with the possibility of earning up to 125,000 bonus points."

Ah, the tantalizing lure of possibility. The possibility of your flight taking off, for example.

One can understand, of course, that Southwest wants to act as if it's business as usual.

Sometimes, though, it's worth pausing that notion in favor of considering the direction in which your customers' heads may currently be pointing and reacting appropriately to that.

I fear too many heads aren't quite yet in the mood to say wonderful things about Southwest -- especially to corporate travel decision makers.

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