10 Additional Answers
(Director, Diversity Analysis)
Perhaps by not being a complete stinking pile of shite airline who puts absolutely everything before actually serving their customers?
But I've just had a very bad few hours with United so I might be just a tad grumpy about them right now...
(President, Trudo Realty)
In my opinion, the quality of customer service is defined by two measures: (1) distance between the customer and the decision-maker, and (2) customer access to information.
For (1), United (and other airlines) would do well to shift the decision-making authority 'down' a level, so that those closest to customers - flight crew and gate teams - have more power to make customer service decisions when they're in the trenches. Empowering flight attendants or check-in teams decide to offer free upgrades, waive luggage check fees, adjust prices (within reason), and offer free amenities (beverages, pillows, etc.) will go a long way to smoothening out the customer-service provider relationship. The longer the chain of command between 'field' and 'decider,' the less satisfied customers will be.
For (2), provide high-quality information regarding delays and missing luggage (at least one airline is doing this already, with a FedEx-like tracking system for checked bags). When sitting at a gate with a 1-hour delay, no one wants to hear, 'Sorry, the plane is delayed due to weather.' But a *quality* piece of information would be, 'Sorry, the plane we're taking today is coming from Detroit, and it was delayed there by an hour because there were a backlog of landings on the runway caused by bad rain that made the tarmac to slick to safely land on.'
That second piece of information gives customers the feeling of empowerment and disperses frustrations that arise from the mix of ignorance and impotence.
Those are two easy strategies an airline can adopt that will pay forward enormous dividends in customer service without rethinking the entire airline industry model. Any airline could implement both *tomorrow* and see customer satisfaction rates improve.
(IT Governance Evangelist, Romero Consulting & BOT International)
They could strive to provide even a semblance of the customer service levels they apply to Global Service members (their top-tier frequent flyer level). The service at that level is absolutely unreal. I am not suggesting they could offer the same level of service to every traveler. But they should have a process for the continual monitoring and measurement (cost and performance) of the top-tier services with the overarching goal of determining the feasibility of replication across a wider base. The idea would be that they could design, test, and optimize top-tier service levels for their high-revenue customers, and use that knowledge and experience to establish higher service levels for all of their customers.
United like all of the airlines need to rethink the model. I don't have the answer but the airline model in the US is broken. Most of the customers wanted and still want low price. They are getting what they asked for and are paying the price by getting the service they are willing to pay for.
Sorry to say the buying of Continental is not makeing United any better it is making Continental worse.
(CAO (Chief Amazement Officer) and customer service expert, Shepard Presentations, LLC)
The bigger question is how could all airlines improve their customer service. I'm not going to pick on United. Sometimes the problem isn't the specific airline or their service. The problem is the product. There are many factors that make the total experience less than satisfactory; weather, mechanical issues, security issues, carry-on bag issues (too big, not enough room, etc.), rude passengers and more. Flying is not fun anymore. It's not what it used to be. Even an airline recognized for great service, such as Southwest, has total satisfaction problems. No doubt some airlines are better than others. So how to fix United? Not sure it is United. I think it is the product. But the place to start for any airline is with the people. Hire right, train well and recognize them when they deliver an outstanding passenger experience.
Shep Hyken, www.Hyken.com
(Head, Brand Strategy, Nunwood, Inc.)
By making 'customer experience' something that is real, not just a slogan just because everyone is tossing the expression around these days...just saying it doesn't make it so. As I believe Abe Lincoln once said, 'you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.'
(Owner/Employee, Talent Blueprint)
Quite a few interesting answers, I would tend to lean toward Mel Kleimans point of view. Since I've flown on every airline in the US, I have made some observations about what differentiates them from those that may be considered the leaders or leader.
Southwest Airlines is often referenced as being a leader in service and of course the most financially successful airline in US history.
The answer to this question isn't simple, it never really is when it comes to service and engagement. To my knowledge the only two non-unionized airlines are Southwest and Skywest, I hate to say this, but I believe that this has something to do with the issue of service. I'm not certain about Skywest's selection practice, but I am Southwest, they have a great deal of rigor built into their selection process, if I recall, only about 1 in 400 applicants get hired.
From my experience with other airlines, I'd have to say that most of them tend to hire unfriendly staff, in some cases, miserable staff. I believe that the misery is partially internal and organizational. I remember when Delta was going through some very serious financial struggles, the employees were down right rude and very unhappy.
I never have gotten the impression that the airline industry was customer centric focused, on the contrary, they really couldn't care less, I wish I understood why, perhaps it has to do with the fact that they don't make money.
There was a time when I enjoyed flying Delta Song, but they didn't last for very long. What's peculiar is that there are excellent business models for the industry to study, on average Southwest boards their entire plane in under 15 minutes, the rest keep on doing what they've been doing and never get even close. You can't tell me that they can't change, but somehow they refuse. Perhaps the real issue at hand is simply this, they don't care about customer service, never have and never will.
(Managing Partner, The Loyalty Partners)
Those who said that the airline model, especially for legacy airlines, is broken make good points. At the least we can say that delivering an outstanding customer experience is not top of mind in the mature airline model.
Having said this, UAL would have to decide at the very top of the organization that the passenger experience will become more important than current priorities. If this type of fundamental change were to occur, they would have to do the following:
1. Announce to employees, shareholders, and partners that customer experience improvement will be necessary to invest in the future of the airline and that this initiative will be funded and supported over time not as a program of the month
2. Retrain personnel including customer loyalty measures. Integrate customer service into the evaluation and compensation systems
3. Allow operational differences by location and begin to reward innovation which leads to customer experience improvement
4. Solicit input from front line personnel concerning information systems which are needed for improvement in the customer's experience. Then provide these new systems
(VP Sales, OpsAir)
Many airlines (and customer service organizations, for that matter) don't empower their front line to help the customer. They don't give them the decision tools and guidelines to make the choice of how they can help the customer, and both the customer and the front line staff are left helpless and frustrated from lack of resolution and/or information. JetBlue is one of the exceptions, and I have personally encountered the 'let me help you resolve this' attitude that reservations and airport crew have in their culture. When leadership treats the front line with respect and gives them the tools to do their job, and encourages 'learning moments' (eg not labeling something as a mistake, but how can I learn from this situation and apply it in the future) you have a great airline focused on their staff who in turn are focused on the customer. It can exist, but many airline execs are scared to give any power to the front line.
United service has detriorated and is now even worse following the merger. The phone lines are always busy and despite several tries I have yet to speak with an agent. Inquires by e-mail are acknowledged but never answered. The front line agents are struggling with the new computer system and unfortunatley the customar takes the brunt of this. In their advertisement the president states that if he could shake each customars hand he would do so, how about providing the friendly service you promiss and skip shaking hands.
Now that the merger brings more service and customers United should focus on 1) adding new agents trained in handling mishaps on the spot without the need to defer to higher authority. 2) take ownership for your own mistakes and not request customers to prodcuce documents that were issued by them and must be in their system; 3) train all agents about their service so that the message is consitent. 4) ask customers for honest feedback about services and implement them.