Very few organizations know they are in Customer Service.  As we’ve seen recently, United Airlines is in the transportation business. Home Depot, on the other hand, is focusing on the Customer Experience. 

Very few organizations know they are in Customer Service. 

Sometimes we learn more from what goes wrong.

I suspect over 500 million people saw the video of United Airlines dragging Dr. David Dao off its plane to make room for 4 employees. United Airlines just settled with the doctor for undoubtedly a ton of money.  Their management, at all levels, has a condescending attitude toward customers and is driven by rules. Employees and management love rules and policies. It seems the more the better, and to hell with the customer.

There is No empowerment, No speed, and No service recovery. It would have been cheaper to offer 4 passengers $2500 each in free tickets than the $1 million or more that they probably paid the Doctor. The employees put their power hat on and used security to haul this 1 man off the plane, knocking out two of his teeth, breaking his nose, and giving him a concussion, because the doctor would not accept $800 in vouchers for future flights.  He told them he had patients to see the next day and had to make this flight.

Last week, Delta Airlines kicked a passenger, Kima Hamilton age 39, off the plane because while it was waiting for a long time after it left the gate to depart, the passenger could no longer hold it and had to go to the bathroom.  This happens to me a lot. I really related to this incident. The plane returned to the gate because the flight attendant wanted him to follow the rules. He would not leave the plane so they took everyone off the plane and then would not let him board.  This probably took 1-2 hours and was really stupid. The employee was rule driven and put his security and power hat on.

Delta just got worse. View this link. The Schear family got kicked off a flight because they were oversold. Flight attendant said “according to the rules.”  Again employees are rule driven. They all put their power hat on.

American Airlines had a dispute with a woman who had been given permission to take a stroller on the plane to find a spot in the overhead compartments along with her 2 small children. Another rule driven flight attendant, who also had their power hat on, was demanding she not take the stroller on the plane and almost hit the baby. Another passenger (A church deacon and president of an insurance company) threatened to knock the flight attendant out if they tried that again. Millions saw the video.

Why does it take a disaster to do things right?

United Airlines Announces Changes to Improve Customer Experience

April 27, 2017

CHICAGO, April 27, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- United Airlines (UAL) today announced 10 substantial changes to how it flies, serves and respects its customers. The changes are the result of United's thorough examination of its policies and procedures, and commitment to take action, in the wake of the forced removal of a customer aboard United Express Flight 3411 on April 9.

United commits to: 

  • Limit use of law enforcement to safety and security issues only.
  • Not require customers seated on the plane to give up their seat involuntarily unless safety or security is at risk.
  • Increase customer compensation incentives for voluntary denied boarding up to $10,000. 
  • Establish a customer solutions team to provide agents with creative solutions such as using nearby airports, other airlines or ground transportations to get customers to their final destination.
  • Ensure crews are booked onto a flight at least 60 minutes prior to departure.
  • Provide employees with additional annual training.
  • Create an automated system for soliciting volunteers to change travel plans.
  • Reduce the amount of overbooking.
  • Empower employees to resolve customer service issues  in  the moment.
  • Eliminate the red tape on permanently lost bags by adopting a "no questions asked" policy on lost luggage.

While several of these policies are effective immediately, others will be rolled out through the remainder of the year. The facts of what happened aboard Flight 3411 and a full review of United's changes can be found at hub.united.com.

Oscar Munoz, chief executive officer of United Airlines, said, "Every customer deserves to be treated with the highest levels of service and the deepest sense of dignity and respect. Two weeks ago, we failed to meet that standard and we profoundly apologize. However, actions speak louder than words. Today, we are taking concrete, meaningful action to make things right and ensure nothing like this ever happens again." 

"Our review shows that many things went wrong that day, but the headline is clear: our policies got in the way of our values and procedures interfered in doing what's right.  This is a turning point for all of us at United and it signals a culture shift toward becoming a better, more customer-focused airline.  Our customers should be at the center of everything we do and these changes are just the beginning of how we will earn back their trust," he added. 

In contrast, we have three U.S. firms, Amazon, Southwest Airlines, and The Home Depot, who understand they are in the business of Customer Service and walk the talk. Employees are empowered. They understand speed, and all employees know they are in Customer Service.  

I read all of the annual reports of firms that are service leaders. Even though some are full of baloney, they know how to use data to make them look great. You can learn a lot from service leaders like The Home Depot, Southwest Airlines, and Amazon.  Every month I spend money with Amazon and The Home Depot. I refuse to give money to firms that suck at customer service. You can go to any publicly held firms’ web site and search for Investor Relations. I suggest you sign up for their updates and annual reports. You can download them also.

I have highlighted segments on parts of the The Home Depot annual report here that I think have real value. They have such an incredible grasp of Customer Experience.  " Our customers expect to be able to shop with us wherever and whenever they want, and they expect product to be fulfilled in whatever manner is best for them. The customer experience is not only about providing a great transaction, it is about the whole process, from inspiration and know-how, to purchase, fulfillment, aftercare and support. We deliver this experience through and interconnected platform."

The Home Depot sales grew $6.1 billion in 2016 to a record $94.6 billion, an increase of 6.9% from fiscal 2015.

Amazon is consistently awesome at customer service. In 2016 they increased revenue 27% or $29 billion while many U.S. retailers were closing stores, filing for bankruptcy and offering poor customer service.  I have enclosed the first 6 pages of their annual report here. It is really worth reading.