United Airlines Takes Active Approach to Customer Satisfaction

  |  May 29, 2009   |  Comments

Do you care about your customers? Take a page from United's playbook.

Every now and again a company surprises me with good customer service. While it shouldn't be the exception to the rule, it usually is. Let's look at how United Airlines takes an active approach to customer satisfaction.

I've written about customer service nightmares in this column for years. We all have them. Airlines are notoriously the worst. My Virgin Atlantic example warns of how a company's brand can be seriously marred by poor customer service.

In "Customer Service and Criminal Psychology" I discussed why we need to react immediately to problems and provide solutions that take effect swiftly. Otherwise, whatever you did to make up for bad service still leaves a bad taste in a consumer's mouth.

United Airlines has taken steps to take immediate action when something goes wrong. Yesterday I was flying back to New York from Chicago. My flight was delayed from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and there was a terminal change (not just a gate change) because the aircraft had a technical problem. When we boarded the second aircraft, we had to wait another 45 minutes or so because that plane had a technical problem.

This has happened to all of us. This isn't the story. The difference is what happened next.

When we landed, I turned my iPhone back on and started receiving e-mail. One of the e-mails was from United. It had already flagged this flight as a "problem" and sent out an e-mail to all passengers apologizing for the delays.

The e-mail linked to a Web site that offered three different "apology" gifts. One was a gift certificate for travel, one was a percentage discount on travel, and one was mileage plus points that could be added to your account. Each gift had its pros and cons and I eventually chose to get miles. I did all of this before even departing the plane.

Because of the immediacy of the apology, this is an effective method for making up for a poor customer experience. When you wait too long between the "problem" and the "apology," the user disassociates the two events. This is why criminals don't often associate their crime with their punishment -- the time is too great between the two events.

Even though I found the options United Airlines gave me to be a little confusing, it was great to have a choice, and to be able to do this online. Back in the day, I would have had to file a complaint with the airline, wait for a letter from someone, prove that I was on the flight (hopefully I would have kept my ticket), and then hope that someone in the corporate office actually cared.

By automating this process in a swift and efficient manner, United Airlines proves that they care about retaining its customers and realize that after a horrible user experience, it shouldn't put the onus on the user to file complaints and usher the process through. Instead, it takes a proactive approach in identifying the problem and providing a swift convenient process for making amends to its customers.

Do you proactively identify problems in your company, or do you wait for your users to complain? Take a page from United's playbook and think about ways you can proactively respond to customer service problems as they're happening.

Don't wait for the user to complain. If you do, you've already lost half the battle.

Until next time...

Jack

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jack Aaronson

Jack Aaronson, CEO of The Aaronson Group and corporate lecturer, is a sought-after expert on enhanced user experiences, customer conversion, retention, and loyalty. If only a small percentage of people who arrive at your home page transact with your company (and even fewer return to transact again), Jack and his company can help. He also publishes a newsletter about multichannel marketing, personalization, user experience, and other related issues. He has keynoted most major marketing conferences around the world and regularly speaks at Shop.org and other major industry shows. You can learn more about Jack through his LinkedIn profile.

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