David J. Danto
Principal Consultant, Collaboration/ AV / Multimedia / Video / UC
Director of Emerging Technology
Interactive Multimedia & Collaborative Communications Alliance
Dear United – You Asked
Dear United – apparently, what we have here is a failure to communicate. I and others have written dozens of blogs and articles, frequent flyers have made hundreds of posts to flying themed websites and your Facebook page, and your employees and retirees have created online forums – all just to help you understand our needs in an airline. Despite the clear messages common to all these sources, you still email me and others with requests to provide feedback and let you know how we feel.
While a more cynical person than I (was there ever a more cynical person than I) would conclude that you’re really only pretending to be interested in the opinions of your customers and employees, I’m going to assume that you really have the best of intentions and really do want to be educated about how we all feel about you. Below are the points most often made when your best customers and employees talk about you. While taking action on some of these would incur costs in the short term, they would build customer and employee loyalty which would actually improve your bottom line. Then, for others on the list, there is no cost involved at all. For these, a simple, free change on your part would make a whole lot of people feel a lot better about you.
· Stop Lying – Now this one may be difficult - as we understand it is second nature to the management team you have in place, and they apparently never learned the value of honesty from their parents - but it is a really important point. When your organization says one thing and then does something else people could conclude that you are not a sincere or trustworthy organization to do business with. For example, please go to any one of your hubs – Newark, Houston, Denver, San Francisco, etc. – and ask ANY of your customers by your gates or in your clubs if ANY of them think you are “flyer friendly.” EVERY ONE of the people you’ll chat with will explain that is the absolute last phrase any of them would use to describe their experiences with United nowadays. More than that though, when your existing customers and employees hear that phrase over and over - in contrast with the increasingly lousy experiences we are all having - it becomes genuinely offensive to hear. Regardless if the lies are just how airlines always work (like showing a flight as on-time when the arriving aircraft will be hours late) or are specific to United (like saying you’re interested in hearing about our experiences yet do nothing to act upon the feedback) it would be sooooo easy and inexpensive to just stop offending everyone.
· Stop The Safety Video Intro – Very related to the above, all your customers and employees see your current CEO as the biggest liar of the bunch. From the first days of the United-Continental mash-up (“changes we’re going to like”) he continues to say the opposite of what is true. Is it really necessary to have him be the first thing your upset customers and employees see on a video screen as soon as the cabin door is closed? What it says is that United enjoys rubbing salt into the many wounds he caused. It would cost nothing – and actually save money – if his segments no longer needed to be recorded and edited and inserted into the video distributed to all aircraft – and it would please a whole lot of people – almost as much as if the board fired him altogether…almost.
· Learn “Penny-Wise, Pound Foolish” – I realize this is a difficult one for you too, but it may help to remember the Continental history about “making pizzas so cheap that no one will want to eat them.” When your business people cut costs by outsourcing you lose employees that cared about their job performance and get contract workers that couldn’t care less. The work product is at best cheapened and at worst possibly endangers safety. How many high value passengers do you lose because of such decisions? How many costly delays do you incur? How many times do you have to put people up overnight in unheated army barracks? It’s important to finally learn that some savings have hidden costs that bean-counters often don’t understand. If they can’t be taught (which is a given by now) then maybe get some people in there that do understand the value of checked bags being delivered rapidly, agents being courteous and knowledgeable, mechanics performing excellently, etc.
· Treat Your Customers Well And Your Employees Better – If you show disdain for your employees they will not perform at their best – that’s human nature. But if you treat them with respect and dignity, rewarding them for exceptional service and paying them a reasonable wage and benefits package, then they will likely treat your customers with that same level of respect and dignity. I think there was even a book written about that – specifically within the airline industry….something about worst and first….maybe look it up to be sure. If all your executives took a 2% pay cut and spread it around the rest of the workforce you wouldn’t believe what a great outcome you’d experience – and how much good press you’d receive. What is that – like one less day of resort vacation and a few less outfits hanging in a closet for each of them to experience a windfall of good outcomes all around as a result?
I could provide a lot more feedback here – like how bad is it that you promise upgrade benefits to your premier flyers then sell them to others before they can be realized, or how meaningless you’ve made the bottom two or three tiers of status – or how no one at your firm understands the concept that loyalty is a two way street – but understanding and acting upon the four simplified points above would make a very good start. The onus is on you now to show that you’ve heard this feedback (from many more people than just me) and actually do something that addresses it to let us know you have. If it’s not crystal clear, removing the CEO’s safety intro is probably the easiest to do as it represents less effort and a cost savings.
The point is that if you continually ask what we want, but then do nothing to act on the responses, people will start to compare your management to the fabled boy who cried wolf and begin to ignore the requests. That can’t be a good thing – unless it is actually your intention to frustrate your customers and employees and make them stop doing business with you. I missed the day in business school when they detailed how that was a smart strategy.
This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions.
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