United Airlines

  • April 11, 2017
  • A few years ago, fed up with the cattle call atmosphere, poor service, decrepit planes, inadequate room for my femurs and kneecaps, and draconian boarding procedures, I quit flying United Airlines.

    I had a significant number of miles in my account but I reasoned that I wouldn’t fly United for pleasure if they were so terrible for business travel. So I burned my miles flying first class to meetings and events and then I picked other airlines. Initially I missed things like early boarding and departure lounges but I always found solace in knowing that for a few bucks I could get a sandwich or a drink before leaving and that no matter when I boarded it wouldn’t matter because we were all going to the same place. On the other hand, giving up going through United’s security screening at places like SFO was like being deprived of rutabagas.

    Last week another carrier canceled my flight home and I picked a United flight in desperation. As a one-off I thought the airline had improved somewhat but not enough to make it a regular choice again. Then the Twitter-sphere began filling up with reports of company agents assaulting customers to make them relinquish seats.

    If you are not familiar with the story, the short form is that a flight from Chicago to Louisville was over sold on Sunday and the airline needed three seats for crew members who had to work a flight out of Louisville the next morning. They offered various inducements to get people to give up their seats, up to $800 by some reports. But the passengers wouldn’t accommodate so the airline called security to physically remove three people. Yes. The story and video making news involves a man (a doctor no less) being dragged down the airplane’s aisle with a bloody lip. https://thinkprogress.org/united-passenger-brutally-removed-from-plane-chicago-louisville-f886330eb393

    What were they thinking? Were they thinking? What were they thinking with?

    In addition to the obvious assault and battery on a customer, there’s a little problem of unilaterally voiding a contract that lawyers for both sides will spend many billable hours resolving. But the main point in this age of cellphone cameras and CRM is how egregiously the airline acted in the furtherance of its goals and to the detriment of its customers.

    As it happens there’s something that almost anyone dealing with United can do about this. I am thinking of how effective the sponsors’ boycott of Bill O’Reilly’s show has been. More than 52 sponsors have pulled ads in the wake of a New York Times story that Fox has paid out at least $13 million to settle sexual harassment suits by the ancient-enfant-terrible. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/04/business/media/sexual-harassment-bill-oreilly-fox.html

    Boycotting United as I have done might not be possible for many people so I won’t advocate it simply because I believe that situations like this require creativity. So here’s a modest proposal. Pick a trip and pay for it with your miles rather than cash. Burning miles will take some debits off the balance sheet and this won’t affect the company very much, but depriving it of the cash normally expected from ticket sales very well might if enough people do it.

    This small act of solidarity might give executives a glimpse of what it might look like if a significant number of customers actually head for the doors. It might also give a few passengers the idea that they can liberate themselves from the frequent flier lock-in euphemistically called a customer loyalty program. Who knows? It could even make airlines in general a bit more sensitive to customers.




    Published: 6 years ago

    customer-on-hold2Remember when your mother used to yell up the stairs to get you to turn your music down? Sometimes, in the age before sensitivity awareness, dad would do the yelling and he’d substitute noise for music. Ah, the good old days. Too bad they aren’t here right now yelling at vendors.

    ConsumerAffairs.com is the brainchild of James R. Hood a former Washington, D.C. journalist and public affairs guy. It’s website says the org is located in Lake Tahoe, so I’m just guessing that it’s the retirement project for Mr. Hood. At one point before writing that last sentence I thought perhaps retirement project is a bit harsh but then I remembered what I was actually writing about and decided that retirement project might or might not be correct but that the research just published might suggest a person or organization with, shall we say, time on his hands. Incidentally, much the same can be said of me since I took the bait and wrote this. Whatever.

    ConsumerAffairs.com did a little project to compare and contrast hold music at some major corporations. That’s right, they called up, got put on hold, which is not hard, and recorded the music and then wrote about it. I write about it because I see it as my duty as a CRM analyst, which is my job and not some dreamed up project, so there.

    That said the analysis is surprisingly insightful but perhaps not all that surprising when you think about it. Hold music is part of product dress, which is a legal term for the accouterments of a brand that are not exactly the brand and that may not be independently branded, trademarked, or copyrighted. The example I have heard is the Coke bottle. I do not believe it is copyrighted or trademarked but it is part of product dress and nobody even thinks of copying it.

    In the long running legal battle involving smartphones and billions of dollars pitting Apple against Samsung, part of Apple’s complaint had been that its competitor used some of the iPhone’s product dress in designing its smartphones. That’s product dress and in my mind, hold music is part of a brand, so choose it carefully.

    Coke vs. Pepsi

    At any rate, let’s look at a few examples, first up is Coke vs. Pepsi. Coke presents itself as the market leader and above the fray by providing classical music. I don’t know what pieces the company plays, it might have been Vivaldi or Hayden or Handel, but the music was mostly strings and soothing. By the way, this is a good time to say what terrible sound quality all of the vendors that I sampled provided. All of the music sounded like it was being played through a washing machine.

    On to Pepsi. This company has positioned itself as the choice of youth since John Sculley was driving marketing but what youth? Pepsi seems to be targeting people who remember the 1960s and ‘70s with a jingle sounding like something Nancy Wilson would do followed by a bad imitation of The Rolling Stones. Talk about covering your bases.

    Home Depot vs. Lowes

    This was interesting. Home Depot uses your attention while on hold to advertise. The clip I heard talked about their gift card, you know, so you can get exactly what you want. That’s what I want for my next birthday. Lowes defaulted to serenity and classical music uninterrupted by a voice. Perhaps the different positioning of the stores reflects blue-collar construction vs. home decorating even though both carry lots and lots of the same merchandise. Personally, I am bombarded with advertising all day and a chance to avoid it makes the choice obvious, at least for me.

    American Airlines vs. United

    Talk about Coke vs. Pepsi, the two legacy carriers’ music sound the same to me. American plays Adele’s hit “Love song” but the sound quality is so bad that whoever is singing sounds like she’s being drowned in that washing machine. United plays something that sounds like a supermarket circa 1970 and both airlines interrupt their music with announcements.

    CVS Health vs. Sears Holdings

    You might be wondering about the validity of this one but ConsumerAffairs.com lumps them together as big retailers. CVS fills more prescriptions in the U.S. than anybody and Sears is the icon of retail going back well over a century to a time when it sold through a catalog and rural free delivery, the equivalent of the Internet today if you think about it. CVS sounds like electric piano interspersed by soprano sax in some light jazzy riffs reminiscent of Kenny G. Sears sounds like an imitation of Herbie Hancock doing “Watermelon Man” or “Cantaloupe Island.”

    In all cases the hold music sounds like it’s aimed at a middle-aged person like me. That’s no surprise when you think about it. Who else sits on hold calling into a contact center? Gen X-ers and Millennials might also pull out their phones but it’s to surf over to the vendor and make an automated inquiry.

    So what’s this all mean? I think it’s proof of the importance of a multi- or omni-channel strategy in CRM. These vendors have a pretty good idea of who their customers are and the channels they use and that’s Job #1 when you’re trying to figure out what CRM to buy. So this was quite useful research even if initially it seemed fluffy.

    Published: 7 years ago