United CEO does not care about #customers happiness. Really?


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  • United CEO does not care about #customers happiness. Really?

    Lately, I have been thinking about United Airlines.

    In the beginning I thought about them because someone asked whether it is possible to build a customer-centric culture in a company that is NOT founded with the customer at the center. In other words, I received a challenge. And I was told that is impossible to “turn a big ship” culturally. This is especially true when there is an existing culture that is not based on hospitality.

    Those who know me well know that, if you want me to do something, you need to tell me it is impossible. I wholeheartedly believe that an organization like United Airlines can change its culture. In fact, it can become known for empathy-driven service and differentiated experience. Is it easy to do? No. But, is it impossible to do? Again, no.

    Creating Change through Organizational Culture

    When it comes to culture consulting, there is a method to the madness. There is a price to create a change of such scale. And that price is not only financial. I will never forget the Jeanne Bliss podcast with Horst Schulze, Co-founder & Former COO of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. On the podcast, Schulze explained step by step how to create and maintain international hospitality standards. He even talked about the emotional cost of letting people go who were not on board. Today, we equate Ritz Carlton with intuitive, high end hospitality. But to get there, Schulze and his team needed to pay the price.

    So yes, it is possible to turn the United Airlines culture ship around. And I would be excited to consult on the topic. As in the Ritz Carlton example, some people will need to be replaced. Culture starts a the top, but it does not end there. At every organizational level, you need “believers” and culture ambassadors. And an organization like United Airlines needs more people to spread and reward the right behaviors and maintain the right, disciplined decisions.

    Can’t Really Make Customers Happy?

    The recent Inc.com article on United Airlines inspired me to think about the company and it organizational culture even more. First, let’s consider the title: “The CEO of United Airlines Says He Can’t Really Make Passengers Happy. The CEO of Delta Has a Brutal Response.”

    For those of us who bothered to click on the article and find the actual recording of the ABC News with Oscar Munoz, it is clear he did not intend to come across as a leader who is unwilling to try to make his customers happy. In fact, he says that, in the future, competition will be more about the experience and service airlines provide. And he concedes this change is better for the customer.

    Why wasn’t that quote chosen as the tile of the Inc.com article? The answer is culture. Yes, culture is that powerful. See, if the interview was with the CEO of JetBlue Airways, the readers would be conditioned to read about hospitality, innovation, and great customer experience. Why? Because JetBlue Airways is known for those things.

    Unfortunately, United Airlines had made the news with stories about bad customer service. Naturally, the author of the article positioned Oscar Munoz’s words to fit with the majority of readers’ expectations about the brand.

    Organizational Culture Change Isn’t Easy

    I empathize with Oscar Munoz. I believe he wants his airline to deliver exceptional customer service. I also think he would approve the expense for cookies and juices on board flights. But only if the business case to do so was presented to him in a way that made sense. So would the CFO of any for-profit organization.

    I had a similar experience a few months ago with Skift. The magazine took my words out of context and sandwiched them between statements that conveyed opinions different from mine. Media can be ruthless. Readers should give people the benefit of the doubt when they can. This is the price for free press. It is also the responsibility we all chose to have when we opted in for freedom of speech. So, the next time you read something outrageous that a public figure said, click more than once. Get to the source, and make your own judgement about the content you consume.

    How to Get Organizational Culture

    Back to the topic of organizational culture and how to get it right. Oscar Munoz and any other leader in the business world can and should focus on that since good culture is good business.

    Although this may feel daunting at the onset, there are some concrete steps that ensure the right behaviors become a habit. Like everything else in business though, it needs to get prioritized and funded. When you are ready, contact us to learn more about organizational culture. We will guide you and support you through the tough decisions that come with any change management program.

    Get Customer Experience Basics Right and You Don’t Need to Invest in Wow Moments

    Wow Moments are a Customer Experience hot topic. Customer experience professionals ideate how to build, prioritize, finance, and measure these Wow Moments. Chip and Dan Heath wrote a whole book on the topic: The Power of Moments. No Wow Moment saves you from negative word of mouth if your brand fails to get the customer experience basics right or to deliver the expected brand experience consistently.

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    How a Personal Interaction builds Customer Loyalty

    A customer-centric methodology is key to the successful outcome of my interaction with Hello Spud. It is the reason this story appears here, and not among the CX Big Fails! The company did not send an automated response. It did not deliver a message stating “sorry we couldn’t help you, would you like something else.” Instead, the company co-founder reached out to me personally across multiple channels (a handwritten note, followed by personal emails).

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    2 THOUGHTS ON "United CEO does not care about #customers happiness. Really?"

    1. United Airlines culture problem | cxsamiddleeast 10/12/2019 at 1:04 am

      […] we have been talking about United Airlines and a friend of mine just had a bad experience with the airline, we are using them for our case […]

    2. United airlines culture problem | Next Ten Years 11/26/2019 at 7:20 am

      […] we have been talking about United Airlines and a friend of mine just had a bad experience with the airline, we are using them for our case […]


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