Abhorring! This is the one word that describes United Airlines’ treatment of a paying customer. Shocking is the only way to describe video of a traveler being dragged off a flight. His crime? He has refused to give up his seat on an overbooked flight.
As horrid as this was, it brought back a pleasant memory from a podcast on Creating World Class Service. Horst Schulze, Chairman & CEO of Capella Hotel Group, talks of what it takes to empower teams. In his previous stint as CEO of the Ritz-Carlton, Mr. Schulze notes that every employee could spend up to $2,000 to fix anything in the hotel that would jeopardize customer experience and loyalty.
Customers want people to be nice to them and provide caring service. This is the strongest, most important expectation driving customer satisfaction,” says Horst Schulze.
In essence, keeping a valuable customer is more important than making profit in the short-term. This is a business that not only embraces customer service.
Back to United Airlines.
Could this be a case of a self-serving corporate culture? Not only did United lose face of their loyal travelers, and the world, for their insensitivity. At one point, they lost about $800 million in total value the day after a video of a man being dragged off a flight became a major news story.
And all because their employees are not empowered to deal with specific issues as they arise. “They are so locked into their policies, there’s no room for empathy,” says Julia Underwood, a business professor at Azusa Pacific University.
Geoff Fearns, a full-fare, first class passenger, was another passenger affected by this. “They said they’d put me in cuffs if they had to,” he said. For any business worth its name, this is one client it would go to great lengths to keep within the family. But this does not seem to bother a care for United. And as the adage goes, fish rots from the head. In an email to staff, United’s CEO described the man who was dragged off the flight as ‘disruptive and belligerent’.
The response to the defect is more important than the defect itself. An organization’s response to a defect can be the difference between creating a dissatisfied or satisfied customer and a loyal customer.” ~Horst Schulze.”
We can draw two key lessons from this United debacle that require fanatical focus for change.
Responsibility requires energy for it to work. The converse is that it is easier to coast than to reinvent. Could it be that responsible action is re-writing your rule book? Or it is scraping a policy that worked magic two years ago. But at present, the same policy wrecks havoc to your performance due to technological advances you fail to embrace.
Instead of figuring out an alternative to fly four their own employees, United decided to use force to gain access to seats already occupied by paying customers! This approach will only work against you. The responsible action United should [and must] have taken was to act on a mess they created in the first place. They should have figured out another way to transport their employees.
Never pass the buck. Never try to explain yourself out of your mess. Acknowledge it, accept it, and move on. The over booking wasn’t because they had more paying passengers. It was because the equipment scheduled for the flight developed some mechanical problems. United then switched to a smaller aircraft. The rest is history.
If United was properly accountable for their actions, they would have remembered the passenger is technically their employer. And above all, every customer should be treated with dignity. And when things go wrong, be honest enough to accept and own the problems. Then make it right with the customer with no excuse whatsoever.
We gain more respect when we are accountable for the results of our actions.
In the end, empowerment is key. Truly empowered teams create quality products, provide great service and increase customer satisfaction.
Leaders don’t make excuses. Leaders take action to serve diligently and move the organization in the right direction.
Q: What are you doing to make customer service a priority for every team member? Have your say by clicking here.