Mis-Airlined

If United wasn’t screwing up so much lately, you might feel bad for it. The death of world’s cutest and most promising giant rabbit. Then the alleged pee-cup incident. 

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But it all started with that viral video, showing every second of that poor doctor being dragged from the plane

Could you imagine the moments leading up to that? When the flight crew called for volunteers, and getting none, the looks that must have been exchanged between seats? People steeling themselves when they heard a computer would select the four passengers who would have to exit the plane, “Oh no. I am not getting off this plane. They’ll have to drag me off…” And then, out come the cameras. 

Could you imagine the concern of the employees, having some idea of what was about to happen, knowing they’d be expected to forcibly remove passengers? Can you feel the anxiety and discomfort that might have been burning in their stomachs, or the sleepless nights they probably still have? 

While this video was a bit of an anomaly, the circumstances that led up to it, were not. 

But, I Don’t Wanna Check My Bag

While disgruntled customers still write angry letters and send scathing emails, more and more they’re showing just how pissed off and frustrated they are with their cell phones. The videos they capture can spin an audience of a couple hundred into millions, who feel they, too, have been wronged. 

While United’s overbooking policy may have been what got it into the news, the reaction that ensued was the result of much more. Many of the posts and tweets that followed piled every terrible airline experience onto the United heap. Every customer, no matter the carrier, who’d ever lost a bag, had a flight delayed, or had to sit next to a stinky dude from New York to Miami, felt this guy’s pain. 

Missed Connections

And that’s because there’s this alarming disconnect, especially in the airline industry but in other organizations as well, between what a company says to customers and what it emphasizes with employees. These inconsistencies manifest themselves in policies, training, leadership. And so, when a company claims a customer-first position, but sets profit-first, risk-averse policies, what it’s really doing is creating confusion for employees and putting customers at the bottom of the corporate food chain. 

And this is nothing, if not apparent, in the United case. The company tells customers to, “Fly the friendly skies.” But it truly seems that’s not what the company values.  The signs are all there – from United’s original policy, which favored profit over passenger, to their initial statement, which sounded more like a criminal investigation than an empathetic appeal, to the CEO’s email, where he claimed the situation was handled appropriately. It’s a mess of strategic positioning and implementation, time after time. 

They’re All the Same

But, a company’s strategic disconnects are amplified when it’s part of a heckled industry – like cable companies, now at the center of the net neutrality controversy, or banks with the Wells Fargo fake account drama. They’re the industries where expectations are low, where customers presume difficulty but are still ticked off when they experience it. It’s why we hold our breath when we’re waiting for our luggage to pop out of that tiny little window and hop onto the conveyor belt in baggage claim, no matter what airline we've traveled. We’ve been groomed not to count on our experience going smoothly. 

What a company truly values cannot be held secret. It shows up every day, and it can quickly make its way to the Interwebs when exacerbated by previous crappy experiences. It all hinges on the authenticity and strength of a company’s leadership and strategy, and the commitment to implement it fully and push for true differentiation.


 

DANIELLE MILNER

Future seeker, without a crystal ball. Obsessed with strategy and connection. A crusader for culture, great copy and big ideas. Laughs spontaneously and cries contagiously. Scorpio. 

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