Airlines are struggling to keep their heads above water, even though air traffic is increasing. They do what they can to maximize revenue with every flight. Many turn to one of the oldest tricks in the book: overbooking flights.
It’s a gamble that generally pays off. But if not, Southwest Airlines will maintain its title as America’s least reliable airline, while also doing what no company should. It makes its customers pay for its mistakes — despite Southwest pledging to adopt a no-wire transfer policy in 2017, CBS News reports.
The airline claims to enforce this policy today, but last year Southwest had the most overbooked flights of all airlines, according to CNBC.
Unlike other airlines that offer free flight vouchers or cash to entice passengers to choose an alternate flight, Southwest simply changes the passengers’ flights. Often it’s last minute and it’s to a cheaper flight – the same flight you opted against and paid more money not to take. No discounts, no refunds, no apologies.
It’s happened to me several times with Southwest in the last year alone.
Companies in many industries are looking for ways to combat rising inflation and labor shortages, but shifting the blame onto customers is never the answer. When faced with an issue in business that could cause you to lose money in the short term, here are three things to remember to guide your decision making and help you generate income in the long run.
1. Empty Promises Are Worse Than No Promises
As good as something sounds, it won’t look good if you don’t deliver it, especially if you don’t have any real plans to even try it. So while there is an innate desire to oversell, it is valuable to avoid having too high of expectations. In fact, low expectations psychologically increase happiness and thus customer satisfaction.
By now, we’ve all been tricked by glittering marketing messages that sound good and fall flat. Setting high expectations can help land a sale. But if you don’t deliver, don’t expect to bring in repeat customers. Instead, be realistic and give what you said you would do, and then some. As a result, you get satisfied customers who keep coming back, while often referring their friends to you as well.
2. Skip the semantics
Southwest might claim it has a “no overbooking” policy thanks to its semantics, but that doesn’t mean the end result isn’t the same for the passenger. Southwest passengers are still being bumped by flights at the last minute, leaving them stranded and scrambling.
Marketing and advertising have created a lot of distrust — so much so that 96 percent of consumers don’t trust ads, partly because of empty promises based on misleading semantics. While it’s often possible to massage words to make it sound like you’re right, it’s always wrong to hedge your business against its customers.
3. When you gamble, your losses are your own loss
If you are going to gamble, be prepared to take responsibility for your losses. You can’t win every game, and while overbooking usually works, it’s up to you to make up for it if you find yourself on the losing side. It’s not your customers’ responsibility to take on your debts and so customers shouldn’t be the ones who lose when your bets don’t pay off.
While almost every major airline overbooks flights, most eat the cost of a free flight voucher or money to encourage passengers to change flights of their own accord when all passengers actually show up for an overbooked flight. While it may not give customers exactly what they paid for, it also doesn’t put a burden on them by giving them the choice.
Companies are faced with all kinds of decisions every day, many of which involve gambling in one way or another. There are times when you will inevitably have to gamble with your customers, but if you lose, don’t expect them to pay the price. Mistakes happen and the truth isn’t always pretty. But deception is always ugly, and it’s a quick way to lose trust, customers and revenue.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not Inc.com’s.
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