Southwest Strikes Back

I don’t know the whole story, but apparently, Kevin Smith (you might know him as Silent Bob) was booted off of a Southwest flight last night because he was too fat for one seat and didn’t purchase two.  He immediately took to Twitter to demonstrate his frustration to all 1.6 million of his followers by telling @southwestair to “go fuck themselves.”

Who knows what’s trued and what’s screenplay worthy.   Honestly, I don’t really even care.  But what I do care about is  a belligerent b-list celeb who wants to make a scene and try to take a brand down with him.  Southwest’s Twitter team immediately responded to the issue via a public tweet and “@reply” to Kevin Smith.  That’s how I learned of the whole thing.

But how should Southwest handled the situation?  They were really screwed either way:

  • If they publicly respond, then they show consumers and followers of each side that they are connected, listening and working on a solution.  BUT, they also bring more exposure to the situation and start take on more of a defensive stance.
  • They might have responded via direct message, but Kevin Smith wasn’t following them back.
  • They also followed up with a well-written blog post explaining the situation to anyone who is interested.

It’s was quite the conundrum, but I think Southwest handled it just about as well as they could have.  What’s to learn here?

  • Respond fast, but be confident in your policies – although Southwest came across as a little desperate in their initial tweets responding to the problem, they resolved all of that in the blog post.
  • Put customer service first and it usually works out – anyone who reads both sides of the story can’t fault Southwest for their willingness to make the situation right.  In almost every example, they apologized and asked for an opportunity to make it right.
  • Apologize for the experience, not the policy – Southwest worded it perfectly when they said sorry for the experience.  If they would have cowered and said sorry for deeming him too fat for one seat, then a huge firestorm would have erupted.
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9 thoughts on “Southwest Strikes Back

  1. Well, at least you admitted in the very first line of your post that you were uninformed about the story. Good work on proceeding to write based on your ignorance.

      • Yeah, okay… except you’re assuming that you understand the situation by reading one side of the story. You statd that “they followed up with a well-written blog post explaining the situation”… What?! How do you know that this blog post, well-written or not, explains the situation. Have you heard the story from Kevin Smith’s side? Do you understand from his words why he’s still upset and “scorching the earth” despite the apologies that they’ve given? From a handling the “PR crisis” side of it, they’ve failed miserably, and you might understand that if you actually informed yourself. Southwest failed in basic customer service principles and in having basic human courtesy in a catastrophic way, and they are continuing to do so. I’m amazed that anyone can look at this story and not empathize with Kevin Smith. Yeah, he’s raising hell, and Southwest is suffering for it. It’s well-deserved in my opinion. It’s hard to put a price on the kind of embarrassment and public shame that they brought on him with absolutely no cause. The slimmest possibility that they’ve been doing this to other passengers should have everyone outraged.

  2. I read all of that. So I was informed. Maybe I’m not making myself, clear – for me, it doesn’t matter who is wrong and who is right. In fact my case is even stronger if Southwest is completely in the wrong. They did a good job of responding in a timely manner and contained the issue. Often times, that’s what PR is about: issue containment.

    The blog post was “well-written” because they addressed the issues head-on while not admitting fault yet asking for an opportunity to make it right.

    This blog post isn’t about who is right and who is wrong. This is a blog about marketing and PR and they’ve done everything right from that standpoint, IMO.

    They very well might have royally screwed him over. They very well may be screwing hundreds of people over everyday. I’ DON’T KNOW THAT AND NEITHER DO YOU.

    I’ve been screwed over by Southwest and other airlines in the past. That’s not the point here. It’s how they managing the situation with a wider audience.

    • And I completely disagree with you about it being good PR to not admit their fault. That’s exactly why he, and I, and anyone with empathy for other human beings are still outraged. Have you ever been completely humiliated? How can you think there’s any possibility that it’s a good business to do anything but admit their fault? They’ve dropped the ball big time. I can’t imagine how mortifying that would be to be in his situation. Kevin Smith is not that fat. And his weight is his own business. The idea that someone should glance at him and make a decision to boot him from a plane is outrageous! And admitting that they made catastrophic mistake is exactly what they should do. And then apologize profusely, and guarantee that they policy will be reviewed, and that they will try to do everything in their power to try to prevent this to happen to anyone else unnecessarily. I understand that there is a reason for this policy, but who’s making these judgements? Who’s making sure that it’s warranted? Where’s the value and consideration for paying customers? Customer service is the first and most important part of PR. They’ve failed and continue to fail.

  3. Neal… I agree with you completely!

    In a world where everyone can stand on their own personal soap box, and people can watch customers hissy fits in real time, having good pr is tough.

    Southwest handled it the best they could with the social media tools they had on hand. They didn’t ignore, and they addressed the opinions of those commenting, tweeting, while maintaining the SW brand.

    Noahone… I think you are still missing the point. Neal is talking about PR in social media… not who’s right or whos wrong, not fat people, and not airplanes… stop talking and try listening.

    • Erica, everyone is entitled to their opinion. I have been listening, but what I’ve been hearing de-humanizes the situation. SWA’s PR representative’s jobs depend on on their defending their companies reputation, but that doesn’t preclude them from taking responsibility and admitting blame! Good business is all about good people. Their half-assed apology did not cover it. It was almost insulting. You can not put a policy above a human being. That’s bad PR. Period.
      I understand Twitter and social media very well. The back-lash against them has barely begun.

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