Customer Experience Management: Learning from United’s Mistakes

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Customer Expectation Sign

“I am sorry for making you miss your flight sir, but you really need to put your expectations into the upright position during the holiday season, as our services are in high demand. Here is $250 and a $15 dinner voucher to compensate you for the inconveniences that this has caused you.”

This was the response that I received from the United Customer Service Team on January 2nd after their poor planning and under-staffing caused me to miss my flight home from LAX and sit in an airport line for more than 6-hours with more than 100 other disgruntled passengers who were waiting to rebook their flights. What made things worse is the customer experience management staff neglected to communicate with the abandoned customers for this entire period and refused to waive their $150 rebooking fee when several of us tried to rebook our flights ourselves online.

United Customer Service Line at LAX

By the time I reached the front of the line, the customer service representative told me that all flights were booked to Boston until the following evening. I refused to accept this resolution and demanded that they offer compensation to any passenger willing to give up their seat on the next flight out. As expected, a seat opened up immediately and I had a same day ticket home. However, this representative neglected to compensate me for the inconveniences and told me that I had to stand in another line for an hour to be compensated for the poor treatment. In all, I spent almost 19 hours on my trip back to Boston and walked away from this experience as a miffed and disgruntled Mileage Plus member.

Ultimately, I learned the reason for this fiasco was that United had not scheduled sufficient staff to make up for the number of employees who call in sick during the New Year time frame and consequently was understaffed and unable to meet the needs of their customers.

There is nothing more frustrating to customers than poor customer service that is due to poor planning. By thinking ahead and anticipating circumstantial changes companies can resolve many major customer service issues. The problem is that too many companies are engrained in an old fashioned mindset that customer service is a reactionary function.

Companies who are high performers in customer service (i.e. Amazon, Zappos, JetBlue) are actually some of the best at anticipating things that are going to go wrong and effective at identifying high risk issues and planning how to resolve these issues before they happen. Customers realize that mistakes happen and reward companies who anticipate problems happening and resolve them in a simple and non-disrupting manner.

Too many companies rely on compensation programs to resolve customer service issues and never correct the process issue that is staring them in the eyes: that their customer service approach is outdated and dysfunctional. Compensation programs are a great supplemental offering, but they cannot be the end-all be-all in a company’s customer experience management program.

If you are interested in learning more about customer service mismanagement, you should read my blog posts on customer service mishaps that can break a company’s back and Net Promoter Score (NPS) mistakes that can derail the customer management process.  Similarly, if you are interested in learning more about proactive customer experience management, I highly recommend reading Bruce Temkin’s blog on Customer Experience Matters.

Marketing Manager, Pricing Strategy