In a recent episode of That Solo Life: The Solo PR Pro Podcast, hosts Karen Swim and Michelle Kane discuss the nightmare that was Southwest Airlines’ system failure over the holidays.
They also dive into how solo PR pros can help their clients prepare for these scenarios and what to do to exceed customer expectations every day.
Pay attention to your system of tools
Michelle says it best: “Don’t shortchange investing in your company’s infrastructure.”
In the case of Southwest Airlines, more than 16,000 flights were canceled over the recent holiday season, in part due to severe winter weather. But a week after the storm system moved through the country, other airlines got back up and running. Not Southwest.
A plethora of issues caused the airline’s massive disaster. One component was outdated technology. Their archaic system couldn’t keep track of where its crew members and pilots were after so many flights were canceled.
Karen shares that when anything seems to go wrong with an organization and it becomes public knowledge -— or, like Southwest Airlines, causes havoc on the public — a lot of people label it a PR failure. This wasn’t that.
“This was an institutional failure, or an organizational failure,” she says. “However, I think as a solo PR pro, it's important for us to take a moment and to understand again how important it is to be really embedded in the business.”
She adds her two cents that Southwest’s disaster could have been managed better with a proactive crisis plan. They knew that travel in 2022 rebounded greatly and that the holiday season was going to be especially busy. It would have seemed natural to have a plan in place to be equipped to handle those things long before December 2022.
“I think it's unfortunate that for a company that’s seemingly so devoted to service, they really missed it big time on making sure the components that go into serving their users failed so dramatically,” Karen says.
Going above and beyond is a necessity
Just because you’re a solo PR pro doesn’t mean you should stay in your lane entirely. Even though you’re not a website designer, you can look at your clients’ websites and share if it’s too confusing, or if the company’s value proposition isn’t clear, or if there are any dead links.
“I always find things that need fixed,” Karen says. “Clients really appreciate that. They appreciate that you're taking a whole look at your business, and you're coming at it with fresh eyes.”
“Yes, our job is to handle crises, but it’s also our job to help them prevent the crises to begin with,” she says.
She also shares that during any big launch with a client, she asks a list of questions about their technology and runs through their customer facing system herself. She wants to experience what an actual customer would to uncover any gaps.
“I think it's important that we get comfortable looking at things from the external facing viewpoint, so that we can advise and be proactive before it becomes an issue,” Karen says.
It’s also the job of solo PR pros to help protect the brand and reputation of clients and remind them that doing what’s expected is not exceptional. Going above and beyond for customers instills brand loyalty and strengthens trust.
Karen says, “Show up in big ways, and customers will reward you with their loyalty and their dollars.”
Don’t discount loyalty
Speaking of loyalty, Karen and Michelle discuss how it’s hard to re-earn consumer trust these days, in part because we have lost numerous trusted institutions over the past several years. Buying consumers back with monetary rewards doesn’t cut it, either.
“Sometimes you do have to spend the money,” Michelle says. “Your marketing team is not a frivolity — it's a necessity. Your communications department is there to help you shape your brand to keep those customers loyal.”
And as a solo PR pro, you have a bit more control over your own reputation and self worth. So, if clients continuously ignore your counsel, maybe it’s time to find a new client.
“I think that's why we love being solos, because we get to work with companies that are our jam and we love,” Karen says. “We can really get on the front lines for them.”
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Photo via iStock Images Credit:jurgenfr