United, this time with customers
Apr 11, 2017
The #united debacle is one that all Customer Service representatives can learn from. Sure, most companies don’t have police backup they can misuse, so we’re not likely to completely replicate this awful event. However, there’s a glaringly obvious cultural mindset that caused this event we can avoid within our company and mindsets.
The customer service opportunity that arose was: we have four fellow employees that need to access our services but all available product is currently in the hands of our customers. United chose to look at this as a procedural issue: can we get customers to give up our product so we can give it to our fellow employees? When that didn’t work, they went to a plan that forced customers to relinquish the product. When two customers refused to relinquish the product, they took steps to force them to stop using the product.
Worse than that problem solving premise that the employees came before the customers was the obvious mindset evinced by Oscar Munoz, the President of United’s message to his employees that we will take care of our own. He wrote to his employees, in part:
"Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this. While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.”
So, we can infer, “flying right” is the plane leaving the ground with compliant customers. Making customers compliant puts United as willful adversaries of their customers, battling to ensure the company’s will overcomes objections.
We can look at our culture. How many parts of our website forces customers to learn how we think of a procedure, such as a sale, or reservation, rather than having our site put links and controls where customers expect them? How many of our refund procedures or complaint resolution steps ask our customers to jump through hoops to provide information to us so we can speed up a transaction, rather than building controls we Customer Service Representatives can use to do that work for them?
On a deeper level, do we discuss the inevitable “problem” customers, who are angry or scared or powerless, in terms that help us understand how to help them better or in terms that insult or bully them? We have to build a culture of respect in attitude, language and thinking so that when, presented with situations that could so badly escalate as the United one did: escalating so our actions cause us to lose all respect from our customers or indeed people of the world, our empowered Customer Service Agents and their managers reach a goal that helps our customers and thus our company.