April could have been a real bad month for Southwest Airlines. With one plane sliding off the runway at Chicago Midway and another having part of its fuselage rip away shortly after takeoff, the company known for its excellent customer relations had back-to-back potential PR disasters on its hands.

Then, Southwest showed why its customers trusted them before, and why its customers still trust them today.

Take the runway incident. As news broke that a Southwest plane had skidded off the runway at Chicago Midway, Southwest sent a message to its more than 1 million Twitter followers: "Gathering details regarding the event (at Midway) please standby for more info."

The airline followed up with regular updates on its blog and Twitter feed, through press releases and statements to the press. The messages never overstated what was known, but they always reassured: no one was injured, everyone is safe. As more details became available, Southwest communicated them promptly and accurately.

The other incident in which part of the fuselage was ripped off a Boeing 737 required even more substantive action. Southwest announced it was immediately grounding every 737-300 series aircraft in its fleet to inspect for the sort of micro-tears that were the cause. The airline canceled nearly 500 flights, but the speed and transparency with which Southwest acknowledged the problem and acted to fix it only further endeared Southwest to its customers.

So what does this have to do with community banking? Southwest airlines had a negative perception problem, and so potentially do community banks. As digital and mobile communications transform the banking industry, community banks are increasingly lagging behind their larger competitors in the online space. They are very much at risk of being perceived as behind on technology and lacking in sophistication.

These banks can take a lesson from Southwest. Even when they really are behind, banks can communicate to their customers what steps they are taking to improve. Although it is unlikely that small banks will spend millions to keep up with major institutions, they can selectively and incrementally improve the online experience. A key aspect of this approach should be communication to customers who are increasingly aware that they may not be getting the tools and access they could get elsewhere. Like Southwest, communicating progress can blunt or even turnaround negative perceptions all together.

Sharing a long term plan for improvements can actually improve trust and satisfaction. If people can feel good about flying on an aircraft model which recently fell apart in mid-air, they can feel good about missing out on a few online services – as long as improvements are being made and they know what the plan is.