The Power of Stockpilling Customer Goodwill

Scott Dieckgraefe Insight

Remember the song, “United Breaks Guitars” from back in 2009? A performer wrote the song after seeing his guitar being manhandled by United baggage attendants. The song attained 17 million YouTube views.

How about this spring when United Airlines forcibly removed Dr. David Dao from a flight? A photo of the bleeding doctor being dragged down the airplane aisle by O’Hare security went viral and the news media went crazy.

United Airlines became a punching bag for the industry. Repeatedly.

Now shift your mindset to Southwest Airlines. Most everyone has happy thoughts associated with Southwest Airlines. Yet stats show that they mishandle more baggage than United, and bumped about the same number of travelers. Through all of this, Southwest is ranked as best low cost carrier by J.D. Powers. The difference, my friends, is in how they stockpile customer goodwill.

United appears more focused on securing profit from customers on their airline, while Southwest appears more focused on providing compassion to the humanity they transport. Certainly, both companies are profit driven, but they approach customers differently. The difference in approach runs deeper than their branding and marketing efforts, rather it’s a culture they’ve developed.

All companies – regardless of their industry, should take great pains to thrill their clients. Every time you do so, a “goodwill token” is deposited in your account. Whenever something bad happens – and it will – a number of tokens are withdrawn from that same account. The goal is to always be overstocked with goodwill.

Southwest understands the benefit of keeping an account full of goodwill, and they deposit into the account with every cute song their employees sing about safety, and with every extra bag of peanuts they cheerfully hand to fliers. Every time they recognize their customers are worthy of respect and kindness, they deposit another goodwill token.

I returned from a business trip close to midnight a couple weeks ago, to see a line of 100+ travelers at a Southwest Airlines desk. Their four employees were attempting to reroute passengers from a cancelled flight. A calmness covered the weary travelers while they waited their turn. I assure you that if this took place at a United desk, the passenger tone would have been harsh. Instead, this was an organized withdrawal of goodwill tokens that had been banked over time. To SWA’s credit, they still ended the day with a positive balance of goodwill.

What are you doing to build up your company’s stockpile of goodwill tokens?

Studio/D’s PR services include pitching stories to industry publications, media training, content marketing, white papers, case studies, and crisis communications. To learn more, please contact Scott Dieckgraefe at 314-200-2630 or