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When Will We Trust Again?

By Joey Havens

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Trust concept

After being such a celebrated champion of the customer for so many years, Southwest Airlines really, really blew it at Christmas with a system meltdown that destroyed memories for thousands as over 3100 flights were canceled Christmas Day and over 5000 the next day. This is a reputation rattling that takes my emotions back to the BP oil spill.

Now, the CEO has certainly come forward to own the mistake as one being Southwest’s own making. But is this an unrecoverable brand injury? Maybe not. However, owning the mistake is just the first step to building back the brand and gaining back the loyalty of their customers — people need to see a step-by-step plan to fix the problem. This plan of recovery and investment should be long on clarity and have frequent updates and progress. When can I have faith that the same meltdown will not happen again? If they successfully do this, I believe their brand will not only recover but possibly become even stronger.

This applies to each of us when we make a mistake — owning it is the first step. Too often we begin with excuses, ignoring it, doubling down or blaming. We gain trust back when we not only own the mistake but also do something about it while showing empathy to those we impacted. Studies show that our personal brand and loyalty will actually increase after a mistake if we get the recovery right.

“Oh no CeCe, I forgot to tell you I picked up a new vacuum for the cabin. I see a new one sitting under the carport so I guess you went and got one, too. This is completely my fault. I should have texted you when I picked one up. I know I asked you to find one for me. I’m so sorry you took the time to grab this for me. I will take it back myself.”

“You sure will…”

Coming in 2023, my new book Leading with Significance breaks through the limiting barriers of common culture theory and demonstrates, with great transparency, the real human emotions that elevate a culture to one that is genuine, enduring and magnetic. Sign up today for updates at