The Value of Customer Experience in Light of the United Airlines Disaster
It’s easy for inconsistencies to devolve into a Public Relations (PR) disaster. Take the man who was beaten and dragged off of a United Airlines flight, a simple breakdown that has caused shares in United to slip by 4 percent on April 11th and the company’s market value to plummet by $1 billion.1 It was a massive PR disaster, not just because of the violence inflicted on a customer, the financial impact on United, and the history United has with frustrated passengers, but also because the crisis could have been averted if there was more consistency in the way that United creates the customer experience.
Inconsistencies Leading to Disaster
Overbooking flights is common practice, as some passengers typically don’t show up, and airlines lose money if they have empty seats. However, when they end up with more passengers than seats, it is normal to offer financial incentives for passengers to voluntarily give up seats. Often passengers take those financial incentives, but sometimes they don’t, and airlines are forced to involuntarily bump passengers from flights. As strange as it may seem, it’s both legal and normal for airlines to conduct business this way, and is the result of a business model where airlines have to optimize their spending in order to remain profitable.
The United PR crisis occurred when there was an inconsistency in the way customers were treated during the involuntary bumping process, causing a breakdown that spiraled out of control.
There were two moments where inconsistencies contributed to the United crisis:
- At the Gate
Bumping passengers usually happens before people are allowed onto the plane, either at check-in or at the gate. This way, passengers aren’t inconvenienced more than necessary, and are more likely to accept a voluntary offer. United Airlines, in their Customer Commitment, prided themselves on consistency during these situations. However, during the April 9th incident, United tried to implement this procedure at the last minute, letting passengers onto the plane before completing this process. As a result, they were inconveniencing passengers far more than necessary, and certainly had a harder time getting them to voluntarily give up their seats.
- During Negotiation
United Airlines, for involuntary bumping, is allowed to pay passengers up to four times the ticket price (up to $1,350 in this case) to leave the flight. However, in this instance, they only raised the offer to $800. It is entirely possible (and likely) that raising the payment by another $550 would have caused more passengers to willingly give up their seats. But, as a result of being inconsistent in the amount they offered and not following normal processes, they weren’t able to voluntarily get passengers to make space for the four last-minute employees of a partner airline.
Creating a Consistent Customer Experience
It is more important than ever, whether in retail, food service, or air travel, to make sure that customers are always valued and are treated with consistency. In a digital age where information spreads quickly, where it’s easy to take a video on your phone, and where the demands of customer service are shifting, it can be catastrophic to take shortcuts by inconveniencing the customer.
It can be difficult to implement a consistent experience across hundreds and thousands of retail stores. Task Management solutions provide clear directives and free up store managers and associates to provide a consistent experience and focus on the customer. It also enables stores to:
- Simply and quickly see what tasks they need to accomplish and when they need to be completed
- Provide corporate with chain-wide visibility in to project completion status
- View corporate tasks on mobile devices with critical information at their fingertips
- Complete new product introductions, promotions, and urgent tasks such as recalls consistently, avoiding chain reactions where customers are neglected or even harmed
It’s easy for customers to spread images and videos of their sub-par experiences while shopping. More than ever before, it’s imperative that solutions are in place that ensure customers are both valued and provided with a positive, consistent experience.