United Airlines brings me back to earth

27 Jun 11 02:22PM EST
Post by Nick Stace
United Airlines plane

I have just returned from Silicon Valley in the US where I spent a week inside some of the most impressive companies to emerge in recent times:

Zappos, a company that sells shoes and clothes, but in reality sells great customer service where goods arrive the next day and they accept returns up to a year later.

IDEO, a company that has brought about innovations like the computer mouse and life-saving medical sleeping bags for infants in India and Nepal, nurturing human creativity to answer the challenges of our time.

Google, a company that has transformed our access to information and made that a force for good through innovations like their ‘person finder’ technology that helped millions of people in the recent Japanese and Haiti disasters find their missing relatives and friends.

EA Games, the world’s largest video game producer who combine education and entertainment, growth and creativity, customer insights and innovation in what they do.

I also had a series of meetings with leaders of other companies that are responding to consumer insights around travel (Triporati), music (Pandora), photography (ophoto), car sharing (Zipcar) and initiatives to encourage businesses to become a force for good (carrotmob).

I am not saying everything about those companies is good, but all of them impressed me with their combination of consumer insights and real investment in their staff to ensure they deliver a great customer experience.

It is inspiring stuff and certainly gives me plenty of stimuli for doing more at CHOICE to better serve our members. But I also feel more fired up than ever that CHOICE can do more to encourage the very best and shine a spotlight on the very worst companies.

That feeling of inspiration was still fresh as I boarded my United Airlines flight to return to Sydney. Unfortunately, it was like stepping inside the jaws of a dinosaur.

After seeing some of the best that the US has to offer in customer service, United Airlines showed me some of the worst. CHOICE always encourages people to give direct feedback to companies; good or bad, so I’ve written to the CEO of United (pdf) to express my disappointment. I’d be delighted to hear your reaction to this letter. If you’ve ever flown with United, tell me if your experience has been similar to mine or very different. If you’re like me and have been very disappointed with United, what do you think they can do to improve the customer experience not only during the flight but in their airport lounges?

The customer service from United is a regular conversation topic on Twitter but I wonder if senior management at United are aware of the level of dissatisfaction with the experience they offer their passengers.

I hope to have fruitful discussions with United about how they can improve their service, particularly as they are the major US airline flying between Australia and San Francisco.


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