What customer service lessons can be learned from United Airlines?
Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, RSR Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers, presented here for discussion.
By now we’ve all seen the horrific video of a passenger, David Dao, being hauled from his seat on a United Airlines flight by airport security because he refused to give up that seat to an airline employee. This form of institutionalized rudeness is not new to the airline. I’ve flown on United once in the past decade and experienced so much rudeness from a flight attendant on that flight I vowed never to fly it again. I made that vow before Dr. Dao’s experience. At least two of my partners have done the same.
It seems that in the U.S., the stunning mass of mergers and acquisitions across the airline industry have left consumers with very few options.
Of course, retail isn’t like the airlines. Consumers have many, many options and a lot of them have chosen Amazon.com. They’ve chosen to talk to no one rather than coming to stores and talking to…? That’s the question we have to ask ourselves. What is the “typical” in-store experience and what happens when we hit an outlier like United did? Do our employees know they are expected to go out of their way to help? Or do they just turn their backs and say “Whatever … sorry, can’t help”?
The majority of retailers spend less than 10 hours per year in training existing employees. Training is more than just learning to work the cash register. It also includes working with customers, dealing with difficult people and working through seemingly intractable situations.
Think about the Target data breach back in 2013. Poor handling of that disaster cost a lot of executives their jobs and, frankly, it wasn’t all about data security. It was about the worst corporate response ever.
United will no doubt survive this debacle, albeit without many of my friends or me on their flights. Retailers just don’t have that luxury. We’ve read enough stories about “the death of retail as we know it.” Frankly, I don’t buy that storyline, but until and unless we insure our cultures are customer-friendly, we are at risk.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: To what degree is the in-store service culture the reason many consumers are shifting to buy online? Can the problems be fixed?