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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Apparently February is for LUV-ers.

Anyone who follows this space knows I’m a fan of Southwest marries their business model with their service ethos.

But in the February issue of Southwest Spirit, Gary Kelly misses badly in his “Gary’s Greeting” section entitled, “The Meaning of LUV”.

In it, Gary states that February is meaningful to the LUV airline, and goes on to describe what LUV means to him (apart from the airport abbreviation for Love Field and the SWA stock ticker) as:

1. LUV is going the extra mile for our customers.
2. LUV is letting bags fly free.
3. LUV is having FUN.
4. LUV is giving back to our communities.

A critical piece of corporate symbolism stands for a fiscal reward differentiator that didn’t exist as recently as two years ago? I’m hoping Gary didn’t read this before it went to press and undermined one of the more tangible brand positions in any service market. Here’s my rewrite. It may seem “too honest”, but it reflects what Southwest customers know anyway:

1. LUV is running the most operationally efficient airline in the world. Sometimes that means minor inconveniences in the execution of the experience, but we think they’re worth it. With the money we save through sound execution, we take care of the people who matter to us. We pay employees well, make money for shareholders and pass savings along to you through lower prices.

2. LUV is co-opting our customers to co-produce the service experience. We’ll go the extra mile for you, but want you to go the extra mile for us too. We’ll ask you to do more work on our behalf than anyone else will, but you’ll get cheap fares, planes that take off and arrive on time, and the occasional drink on us. We think it’s a fair exchange.

3. LUV is having FUN. You can’t work is hard as we do and not be having fun. You work hard making our shared experience successful, so we’d like you to have fun too. Our atmosphere is as casual as possible because it is the most efficient way to get things done, and we’re not particularly fond of boring people, unless they pay full fare and don’t ask for extra peanuts.

Too straightforward? Maybe, but if the Southwest culture is defined on the pillars of A Warrior Spirit, Servant’s Heart, and a Fun LUVing attitude, this seems much more consistent than suggesting that the corporate symbol stands for a value-added service they don’t happen to charge for, a differentiation the fell into as their competitors made bad decision follow bad decision.

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