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There’s no better competitive strategy than eliminating “industry practices” that annoy consumers. Of course, you’ll have to be brave: The biggest complainers will likely be your competitors.

This week Southwest Airlines slayed a sacred cow in the airline industry: They ended change fees.

Customers hate change fees; and Southwest is brilliant for taking on on this “industry practice” that has long overstayed its welcome (was it ever welcome?). The Middle Seat blog noted that “Southwest Airlines has found that attacking rival airlines for baggage fees is such good marketing that its next advertising campaign will go after ticket-change fees.” But Southwest isn’t really attacking rival airlines:

It’s attacking things that annoy customers in its industry. Big difference.

Of course, only Southwest can do it. They have long been industry “contrarians” – just like our philosophy – so you can imagine why we’re so excited! We’ve long encouraged our clients to do the opposite of competitors to find new opportunities. It’s so simple. Besides, copying your competitors is only a formula for sameness, not innovation.

Consider Southwest’s innovative approach: Very social media-like! Let the public express it’s outrage by voting it’s opinion about the fees. Even let them sue the industry, as in this ingenious video spoof of customers taking other airlines to the people’s court.

Which begs the question for us all: Why do we keep doing so many things that annoy, frustrate or simply confuse our customers? Especially modern consumers, who are smarter than ever when it comes to, well, just about everything. It’s strange how few companies come to understand what Southwest learned nearly twenty years ago.

Consider the financial losses – and customer trust deficit – that the music industry suffered when it resisted, refused and even sued its customers, rather than embrace a modern model. Not good. Such refusal to innovate the process, not just apply some “downloading” technology, opened the door for a major innovator – Apple- to waltz right in and please customers.

And capture huge revenues.

Recessions are fertile ground for such innovations. Simply focus on any“because we have always done it that way” process and figure out how to eliminate it. No rocket science required. Who will be the first real estate company to break the legacy rules and restraints – like quitting restrictive MLS systems, no longer charging sellers for the other side’s fees, or auctioning properties every four weeks, rather than list-and-wait for months. These are just a few of the simple game changers that would address confusion, costs and complaints of the industry’s customers. And there are so many legacy rules to break: The ideas are endless but simple. You can start by simply calling a few past clients and asking them what they wish hadn’t been part of the last time they bought or sold their home.

Then, plan a strategy to stop doing it – and differentiate yourselves from the competition.

It can be done. Southwest has proven it. Others, too. Customer will not only accept it:

They will fly to you!