Simplicity: it doesn’t take a genius

In the Information Age, western society’s collective memory doesn’t hold for a long time. Technology is changing daily, and with the advent of apps, there are new challenge rocking grounded institutions to their core. Taxi services, dating sites, and health trainers are being forced to change, to embrace the new 21st Century buzzword: innovation. With Twitter, Yelp, and Tripadvisor all holding travel companies responsible for their services, the power of the people to demand quality treatment is now no longer an option, but an expectation. Many of the international airlines now have their own apps, used to track flights, hold your electronic tickets, and play in-flight entertainment. And despite the great use of this new technology, many companies still cannot uphold basic travel necessities.
According to an article in Bloomberg Businessweek, while keeping the technical team happy, United was seriously lacking in its customer service: “In 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, United was responsible for 43 percent of all consumer complaints filed against U.S. airlines.”
“In 2012 and early 2014, when American Airlines Group, Delta Air Lines, and Southwest Airlines reported large, and in some cases, record profits, “the new United” lost money.” “There were layoffs, furloughs, and baggage handling and gate agent jobs were outsourced. Former Continental employees say they’d been discouraged from giving out vouchers to placate unhappy customers who had been bumped from their flights, though United says they hadn’t been.” (Bloomberg)
As a service-based company, I’m actually surprised customer satisfaction wasn’t first on United’s to-do list. They are still in the process of removing the tarnished image of poor service. What that tells me is that their profit was number one priority, and that’s what killed their customer satisfaction. Furthermore, the three CEOs in 2011 resigned, not fired.
As Drucker says, some CEOs/innovators are “kissed by the Muses”, and these brilliant ideas seem to happen out of nowhere, but true innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. If I’ve learned anything from my Consumer Behavior marketing class, there’s literally not enough information you can collect about your market in order to make the perfect business plan.
As Twitter continues to grow as an outlet for customer frustration and therefore an influential factor to public opinion, airlines are forced to update and increase their customer service. American Airlines is one of the top airline companies, both in sales and in customer satisfaction. Perhaps what makes American so successful is their ability to cater to the most basic human need food. “American hopes to make long waits a little easier for passengers with a new test program at New York’s JFK Airport that brings free food to delayed customers.” (Star Telegram) Providing exceptional customer services is no longer a nicety for airlines; it has become a standard.
With something as simple as providing food to frustrated customers, maybe fancy apps aren’t needed. Behind-the-scenes support doesn’t matter as much to the public as results, on-time arrivals, and personable staff do to the consumer. Nothing will always go right, but it has been shown time and time again that if compassion is shown to the customer, client— whomever you are servicing— any inconveniences are seen as minimal and company reputation remains intact. In a world where everyone’s a critic, and everyone can see those reviews, it doesn’t matter if a company is providing the latest and greatest technological innovation. “Innovate for the present”, Drucker says. United could definitely learn something from him.

One Comment, RSS

  1. gregajohnson March 8, 2016 @ 8:13 am

    Hey Taylor, this is the first time I’ve read your blog and I’m definitely a fan of your writing style. You deliver a lot of potent, relevant information in a very efficient way. In your opening you site the advances of technology and the information age we live in as the causes of society’s short term memory. I couldn’t agree more with that and there is evidence of it in our daily lives over a given span of time. When anything happens domestically or globally that receives spotlight attention and gains traction over social media, it takes our attention off of whatever the previous incident was, which can make it seem less important or give the illusion of having been resolved. These things often remain in the news; Russian aggression towards the Ukraine, which sparked two years ago over the annexation of Crimea, is ongoing and still covered in the media. But it has taken a back seat to other things that easily divert our attention such as coverage on the presidential election and the accompanying buffoonery. Any given story or event has relative importance, so its hard to fault society for waxing and waning its attention accordingly, but the speed at which we receive new information is definitely a factor of why some things don’t get the long term attention they need that could help them be resolved or better understood.
    In the case of United, I can offer a quasi insider perspective on how poorly they were doing in recent years. My Uncle has been a pilot for United for over 20 years. In that time he saw company success and growth along with personal accomplishment as he climbed the ranks in United, flying larger planes every year or so. In 2008 or so I remember hearing him talk about layoffs within the company, and how it was thought to be a hiccup internally. Naturally he was worried; in the commercial pilot job market you are favored if you’ve flown in the armed forces, which he has not. Shortly after this it become more clear how poorly United was doing and why. When I saw my Uncle less than a year later we talked about how the company’s focus on profits had strangled parts of their business like customer service. Now looking back 6 years later after learning how important knowing why you are in business is, I can better understand how frustrated my Uncle had been with his own company for losing sight of the real reason they were in business.

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