Morag LuceyMay 03, 2017

#CX: The Overlooked Necessity that Cost United Airlines Everything

On the whole, we’re making great progress in terms of the customer experience (CX). Research unanimously shows deep organizational appreciation of the CX as a competitive differentiator. Companies are increasingly investing in new tools to better support the digital, end-to-end brand journey. Notable steps are being taken in the right direction by businesses across virtually every sector.

As someone whose job is to articulate the CX, however, I’d be remiss to ignore the disconnection in how organizations are defining this term. It’s important that we recognize the kind of CX that matters today. Not one measured by how quickly an interaction is handled or if a problem was resolved during the first call, but rather the kind that represents every individual organization’s personality. The kind that demonstrates to the world what a business values most. The kind that surpasses even the most sophisticated technology.

It seems all too common today for companies to get wrapped up in CX technologies to the point where they overlook the fundamentals of a brand experience. When you look past the tools that drive contextualization and anticipatory engagement, what you find within every company is its character. Its moral compass. Its ethical standing. Its guiding principles for navigating even the toughest situations. When we observe brands through this unique lens, organizational priorities become incredibly clear incredibly fast.

Consider the situation that occurred earlier this month at United Airlines. In short, a male passenger was forcefully removed from his seat and dragged off an aircraft because of an overbooked flight. The incident, in which the customer lost his two front teeth and suffered a broken nose, sparked global outrage with customers vowing to never fly United again.

Could the incident have been handled more appropriately? Of course. Could United have implemented policies prior to prevent such problems from arising? Absolutely. I grappled with numerous questions while working to wrap my head around this perplexing event, yet one seemed to matter most: are companies forgetting the importance of respect when it comes to the CX?

It’s a ludicrous question, yet one that apparently must be asked. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter if United plans to roll out a new policy that will forbid crew members from displacing already-seated passengers (though I wonder why such a policy wasn’t already in place). It doesn’t matter if United’s CEO called the incident a “humbling experience” after taking full responsibility. The bottom line is that the airline severely lacked respect—something that every individual, paying customer or not, undoubtedly deserves—and that has forever stained the company’s character.

Now, customers are comparing United flight experiences to popular movies like “The Hunger Games” and “Taken.” Spectators held up motivational signs during the Boston Marathon that read, “Run like United Airlines wants your seat!” Countless Internet memes are scorching the company’s reputability not because of a lack of remorse, but because of an unforgettable lack of basic human decency.

My intention of this blog is not to singe United further. Rather, it’s to use this opportunity to remind us of a simple yet powerful truth: the customer experience must be top priority to drive revenue and competitiveness, and respect must be at the heart of that experience. Otherwise, it counts for nothing. This is exactly why we’re going to see customers now flying Alaska, Jet Blue, and Virgin America even though they have accrued points through United’s customer loyalty program. It’s why customers will voluntarily choose to fly other airlines, even if United boasts lower rates.

Also keep in mind that respect should be inherent to a company. It must be part of an organization’s character, rather than a discipline that is practiced. This is how leading companies are able to intrinsically place customer needs before corporate policy. Consider, for example, in 2011 when Southwest Airlines allowed a pilot to hold a flight for a man traveling to see his dying two-year-old grandson. Or, in 2014 when three employees at a N.Y.-based Lowe’s store stayed an hour past closing time to fix a disabled veteran’s wheelchair that had broken during his shopping experience.

True, the customer experience is the new currency of business, but by what are companies measuring the CX? The answer first and foremost should be respect, which must be part of a company’s character. Regardless of how much our world evolves, it’s vital that customers know that a company will advocate for them. That their favorite brands will stand up for them in tough times. That the organizations they choose to do business with will respect them.

Aligning with these basic necessities will transform business and customer outcomes in ways no piece of technology can. At the same time, however, it’s critical that companies have consistent operating models in place during times when customers are indeed belligerent, intolerable or posing harm to themselves and those around them—something that United certainly needs to improve upon.

United’s CEO stated that this incident “will prove to be a watershed moment for [the] company.” I want nothing more than for that to be true. In the meantime, we must continue looking through the unique lens of organizational character. What are we seeing? As an executive leader or decision maker within your enterprise, consider what your organization’s character is telling the world at this moment. At the enterprise level, respect must be core to the CX to drive revenue and competitiveness. The costs of overlooking this have been made more than clear time and again.

Morag Lucey

Morag Lucey is Chief Marketing Officer at Avaya. Morag's career spans 30 years in marketing, sales and general management in the technology and telecommunications space. Morag spends her free time mountain biking, running, sailing & golfing. She, her husband &  their two grown children enthusiastically seek action-packed adventures.

Read Articles by Morag Lucey


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