Tuesday, October 23, 2007

6 suggestions that would be manageable and improvable

Below is a letter I sent to United Airlines CEO Glenn Tilton. I felt it was time for action, not just complaints. (Those who work with me will recognize the Action Shoes® being applied.)

Of course, I feared what the response would be and I've attached a copy of the letter just in case you are curious. Read on…


August 21, 2007

Glenn F. Tilton
Chairman, President and CEO
UNITED AIRLINES
2 N. LaSalle St,
Chicago, IL 60602

Dear Glenn,

Despite all the pressures that are out of your control,
United continues to strive to be the best at what you do.

As a business owner myself, I can understand all the difficult business decisions you must be facing. Dealing with weather, fuel prices, labor costs, healthcare coverage, increased airline security, and many other factors must consume a large amount of your time.

In order to help you in your task of making United the best airline it can be, I’m sharing 6 suggestions that would be manageable and improvable if your company would dedicate itself to them.

1. “Airline employee privileges” at the TSA screening area. I find it difficult to understand why the United Airlines staff always cuts in front of everyone who has been standing patiently in line. They proceed to pass you up without even an “excuse me” or a “thank you”. They assume it’s a privilege and disregard all the paying customers. Wouldn’t it be easier to get a dedicated line for the staff to accommodate them, instead if accommodating the customers?

2. Communication to customers at the gate. Airports are noisy, crowded places, and when your staff announces anything over the intercom, it is almost impossible to hear/understand what they are saying. Second, the crowd control interaction of your staff comes across like they are herding the passengers, which is very demeaning. They also call out the customer’s names and personal information over the intercom, which strikes me as a security issue. As a personal example, I went to the counter and asked the attendant to please let me know if my colleague had checked in for the flight and she informed me that she was unable to release that information for security purposes. Shortly after my request was turned down, the attendant announced another customer’s personal information over the intercom. How does that announcement not contradict what your agent had just told me about protecting the security of the customer?

3. Understanding the true needs of the frequent flyer. I have been a Mileage Plus® member for over a dozen years and have achieved 1K and executive status for nearly 10 years, and yet I have never been asked what would make my flying experience better. I do value the miles, I enjoy the benefits of the Red Carpet Club, and I love getting flight status alerts. But there are more things that a frequent flyer could benefit from. I would think that your market research personnel would want to know that or do a better job at tracking.

4. The personal interaction of customer service. What I appreciate most is when someone from your staff greets me with a smile or calls me by my name, either “Hi Mr. Stinson” or “Hi Mark” is nice. They might even be able to look on a screen and see that I have spent a large amount of money traveling with United this year. I have certainly enjoyed this kind treatment from a select few of your employees, but this seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

5. Dealing with contingencies. As I stated previously, I know many situations can arise to alter, delay or even cancel a flight. While these things may be out of your airline’s control. There is one thing you can always do for your customers-TELL THE TRUTH! If it is going to be a three-hour wait, inform us it is going to be three hours. I am sure we would much rather hear this up front rather than being told to wait thirty minutes, then another thirty minutes, then another thirty minutes. If there is a time window or deadline by which the flight must be boarded or leave the gate, just say that. Do not wait until the it’s already too late to tell us. If were waiting for a plane from Denver, tell us the truth on whether or not the plane has left Denver. THE TRUTH will help us make the decision needed to affect changes to our original plans.

6. Assemble a blue ribbon panel of customer service experts. That will signal to the rest of us that you understand this as a crisis, not a marketing challenge to be sugar coated! I could suggest any number of names of companies that have done this to great effect from the auto industry: Honda or Saturn; retail: Nordstrom’s or Starbucks; or entertainment: Disney or ESPN.

I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your listening and I hope this letter is taken as a piece of productive criticism for a good company that could be even greater by taking the time to care.

Please don’t hesitate to call me if you have any questions.

Best regards,

Mark Stinson
President

Cc: Dennis M. Cary
Todd Arkenberg
Randy Johnson

And here is the response...

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Great example of using the 6 Action Shoes in a letter. I never got to read this letter before now; it sort of reminds me of a LONG American Airlines letter about 10 years ago. And, I LOVED your blog about the Hyphen Wars a few days ago. Long live the hyphen!