Tuesday, March 15, 2011

1 Email's Broken Promise

What happens when you hype something up and create a ravenous appetite in your customers?  They’re chomping at the bit, right?  They wait in eager anticipation for that delivered good/service/X that you’ve so tantalizingly described to them and the minutes seem like hours.  What happens when you don’t follow through after all that build up?  Tremendous disappointment and dissatisfaction.

Last year, I wrote this post about how Southwest proudly touted their “last to market” approach to offering WiFi on their planes.  As their story went, they wanted to get the mechanics and the pricing right before offering it to us, their valued customers.  They were so unselfishly worried about our experience that it was best to be last but perfect.  We are their loyal customers, after all.

Created Needs

When airlines started offering WiFi in planes they put structure and shape to a need that was there but not fully formed.  Prior to inflight WiFi, some of us enjoyed the forced unplugging either to read a book, nap, etc.  This created need is not unlike the created need for heated seats in cars, the microwave, daily trips to Starbucks, etc.  Living in Chicago, I give thanks to my heated seats but it’s not like we couldn’t survive without them when they didn’t exist twenty years ago.

Because of this created need for WiFi, we look to see if the airlines we’re flying offer them…  For some, it’s been sold so successfully that it’s a must have.  For others like me, it’s nice but other factors influence more.  And with this, airlines are feeding the need’s appetite.

Practical Experience

Case in point: as I’m writing this (though posting later), I’m sitting on a Southwest plane.  Yesterday, I got an email from Southwest informing me that the plane that I am on is equipped with WiFi so I can tweet sweet nothings to you all from 30,000 feet.  Prior to getting this email, I knew there was a chance that I could join the Facebook mile high club but I hadn’t given it much thought.  Either way, I was going to get on this flight.

After I got the email, I have to admit weakness.  It built an expectation of productivity in me: to write a post, to catch up on email, to fix up some things on the 678 Partners site, etc.  I built a huge laundry list of interactive goodness in my mind.  Never in my life would I be a dynamo like this morning!

As soon as we hit 10,000 feet, I was amped with delusions of Chris Brogan/Mitch Joel/Joe Jaffe like grandeur.  I pulled out my trusty MacBook and searched for the connection.  Nothing.  Nothing again.  I checked the email that I had saved and I also looked for instructions in their magazine.  At last, the flight attendant did inform us that while the plane was equipped with WiFi, it was not working.

*Womp Womp*

I got a case of the sads.  I felt I was so close and yet so far.  I felt thwarted and frustrated.  I felt unproductive and panicked at the thought of all that HAD TO BE FINISHED on the flight that now WOULD NOT BE FINISHED.  The horror.

Once I took some deep cleansing breaths, I realized my emotion and panic, though self made, were due to created expectation of a created need that I didn’t really have in the first place because truly, the original plan was to tackle the crossword.  Had I not received the email, I wouldn’t be where I am now: writing a post because I feel like a promise was broken…  because I feel like I was somewhat misled.

Perception is reality.  And when customers perceive that something has been promised and then reneged upon, it’s hard to maintain the same level of trust and respect you had with them before.  After all, if a friend makes and then breaks a promise, we're somewhat taken aback and it's no different with our favorite brands.  So it's incumbent upon us to be very careful and serious about the promises we make.

Trust and respect are difficult to earn but easy to lose.  And while I believe that Southwest truly wished to offer WiFi in this flight and was so excited that they had to tell me yesterday about it, the fact that they couldn’t deliver it today is a bummer.

That can’t be a good thing.  What’s your take?  Please comment below and if you’ve enjoyed reading this post, please share it with others.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

P.S. In fairness, there was a disclaimer but it only covered switching planes out.  Here it is:

“You are currently scheduled to be on one of our WiFi planes; however, in the event of operational challenges throughout our system, we might have to "swap" the aircraft and put it on a different route. We apologize in advance for any inconvenience that might cause. This information is accurate as of March 14, 2011.”


  1. Maybe you do need to unplug for a while. WiFi is a nice add, but there are so many other reasons people fly Southwest like their airfares, upbeat service, etc. that not delivering on a minor item for me would not break their overall brand delivery. Personally travel time for me has evolved into powernaps and catching up on my reading (newpaper clips). No longer worry about being wired 24/7 like my fellow passengers.

  2. Jim, thank you for your note and I believe we're in agreement. WiFi is not a driver for me to choose one airline over another as I mentioned above. My point was about this artificially created need, the building of expectation and the subsequent lack of follow through. It's the lack of follow through after a promise has been made which is at issue. I may have been talking about WiFi but this point translates to other industry verticals as well.