United Airlines: Unprofessionalism, Part 2


Low performance can, unfortunately, always be topped. Some weeks ago I was writing about the barriers to high performance (click here), based on the bad practices of one of North America’s biggest airlines, when United Airlines did me the favor of delivering even more examples of mediocrity.

Here the story goes: I wanted to rebook my return flight for another date and went to the website to do so (I always have the desire to test the user experience of certain organizations). Even though the design appeared to be from the nineties, the process nevertheless worked quite well, and numerous alternative flights for my desired date were listed. I selected one, agreed to the fees, entered my payment details, and then the process was cut short with the message: "We cannot proceed with your request. Please contact our customer service at..."

During that call, to make a long story short, I had enough time to prepare and enjoy my entire dinner. The total time it took was an hour and I needed to enter an amazing amount of data before I could even speak to an agent. This first agent obviously had a completely different user interface than me since he could not find my selected flight at all. After a ten minute trial, he forwarded me to a "technical expert."

For some reason, after some effort, she was able to find my desired flight, which I was still able to see clearly on my screen. But there it stopped. Her message was this: "Your ticket does not allow you to rebook to that flight." Weird, I thought. Nonetheless, I selected an alternative flight from the screen in front of me and asked her if she could proceed with the rebooking.

And then came the next surprise: she said she had to charge me an amazing rebooking fee which I did not see on my screen. Again, she seemed to have another interface than I, the customer, had. So I tried to make the rebooking on my own and it worked. Wow, what a process!

Lessons learned for any business:

  1. Anybody working for a company, and in particular those people in customer service, must see the same screens and experience the same products and problems as the customers. Call center staff members who have no chance to see what the customer sees are useless.
  2. If you show any purchasing options to any customer (at the website or anywhere) you must be able to deliver on this promise. Hardly anything turns potential and existing customers away more than not being able to proceed with a purchasing option that they have first been offered.
  3. A company that needs almost an hour of personal interface time with a client just to figure out obvious process shortcomings has an issue not only with efficiency, but also with its leadership and priorities. Obviously, the managers have priorities other than having excellent customer service and lower costs.

Again, this is not about bashing United Airlines (well, maybe a little), but about lessons for any business. Look at the reality of your own organization: how much better are you with regards to all of these decisive factors necessary for peak performance?