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Over the course of any given year, I travel to many conferences around the nation and the world to discuss aging-related issues with my peers. I rarely give any thought to the airlines that carry me to these destinations, especially if I get there on time and with a minimum of hassles.
So I was surprised that the airline industry figured so prominently at a recent meeting where LeadingAge Board Chair Audrey Weiner and I were featured speakers.
The 2-day conference had a provocative goal: getting aging-services providers and their business partners to think more like the management team of Southwest Airlines. As you know, that maverick air travel company has a well-earned reputation for bucking industry convention and, in the process, developing a profitable business model that others are eager to emulate.
Southwest has been “eccentric and outlandish” for decades, according to Kevin and Jackie Freiberg, authors of Nuts! Southwest Airlines' Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success. The company secured its future when it made the radical decision to find out what mattered most to its customers. Then it took significant risks to give those customers exactly what they wanted.
The gamble paid off. Southwest was the only company to turn a profit between 1990 and 1994, when the airline industry posted $12.8 billion in losses. The company actually expanded during the volatile post-deregulation period that forced 120 airlines into bankruptcy. It accomplished all this while charging the lowest fares and enjoying the highest employee retention rates in the industry.
During our 2-day conference, faculty from the Erickson School at the University of Maryland Baltimore County urged aging-services organizations to turn their backs on the well-defined marketplace in which they operate. Instead, they urged providers to enter an unexplored market space called the “Blue Ocean.” That’s where providers of aging services can redefine themselves by creating a demand for new services that consumers really want.
Each provider will explore the Blue Ocean in its unique way. But none of us can even dip our toes in that water without asking provocative questions about:
I firmly believe that consumers expect us to do what Southwest Airlines does:
With a little imagination, providers of aging services can do all of these things. But first, we have to take that scary plunge into uncharted waters. If we stay safely on shore, we’ll undoubtedly become irrelevant to consumers in the very near future.