business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

As many of you have long figured out, Kevin and I work in an unusual style. We fly around the country (and world) speaking at meetings and meeting people. We visit all kinds of places and lots of stores.

Oh, and we have a great time doing it all. Except for one small problem: the flying can be draining as, alas, there is still no MNB corporate fleet. (Heck, we don’t even have t-shirts anymore. We do, however, have customized Yeti tumblers.)

There’s not that much wrong with it except that the airlines seem intent on constantly providing lessons and examples in bad to failing customer service, which means we need experience those issues. Recently United did this for me again, and this time the lessons to any business are so simple and clear that I need share them.

Because of all my flying, I have elevated status on United and on this particular flight I was bumped up to first class (sucks to be me, huh?), which is always good. As things worked out, I was the second passenger on the plane and found something stunning. All the overhead luggage compartments in the first class area were already full.

The reason: United had three employees on the flight, which is fairly common as they need to move pilots and staff around to handle other planes. That makes sense.

But here’s what got me. First, United hasn’t exactly been blowing people away with its customer service experience of late. (Remember the video of a passenger dragged off a plane recently? And I don’t even want to talk about that poor dog.) You’d think the airline, given the competitive nature of the business, would want to use those first class seats for frequent flyers like me to give us that extra bit of delight.

Yes, I want pilots to be very comfortable, even if they aren’t flying the plane. I know they have challenging jobs and probably deserve some benefits. But as a customer service move, I would think the passengers would get priority for the upgraded experience because without those passengers, well, nothing happens.

Secondly, the mere fact that staffers took all the prime luggage spaces is another sign of putting the customer last. Those overhead bins are coveted real estate; yet somehow in United’s culture the thinking is, staff first, customers last.

I share the story because these are unforced errors that no business can make. I have traveled to countless stores with retailers who make a point of parking as far from the entrance as possible to avoid taking a good space from a paying customer eve when we are visiting a competitor’s store. That small lesson always needs to be reiterated and shared.

Likewise, we always need to remember that customers are what make everything work. The culture must always be customer first.

There’s a great scene in the movie The Right Stuff, where the Mercury 7 astronauts school the rocket scientists on what really makes a rocket fly. As the astronauts explain, it’s all about funding not physics: No bucks, no Buck Rogers!”

Someone at United Airlines needs to remind their folks about what makes those planes fly isn’t fuel or the physics of flight. It’s customer dollars, loyalty and satisfaction. The same goes for every business.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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