Quick Update, United Responds – Still Does not Understand

Almost as soon as I clicked the button to publish my previous entry I received an email from United in regards to my tweets from yesterday (not of all of them were kind).

Here is the text of the email:

Dear Mr. Kolsky:

I’m sorry to learn that you were inconvenienced when your most recent flight resulted in a delay and misconnection.  This runs counter to our team efforts to run a great airline.  To assure you of our intentions to improve your next trip with us, I’m depositing one 500-mile upgrade into your Mileage Plus account.


<name withheld>

Manager Customer Solutions

Customer Relations

Ref #: <number withheld>

This message is intended only for the use of the Addressee and may contain information that is PRIVATE and CONFIDENTIAL. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any dissemination of this communication is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please erase all copies of the message and its attachments and notify the sender immediately.  Thank you.

As our valued guest we would like to collect your valued feedback on today’s outreach.

Please click on the link below to access our short survey.

<link removed>

First of all, Kudos to United for listening via Twitter.  Really, major props on that, and on taking action and responding.  I think they are at least trying.

However, there are three things that are wrong here – from my perspective – as far as providing an experience:

  1. The offer to deposit an upgrade on my account as compensation.  As I said in my original post, I am not looking for compensation of any type.  I am looking for a change in the company.  I am not naive to think that my tweets and posts will make United change their culture and become a customer-driven company.  Far from it.  But instead of telling me you are trying to run a great airline, how about if you said “This runs counter to our team efforts to deliver great experiences for our customers”.  Honestly, you cannot do one without the other.  Work on delivering awesome experiences, run a great business as a result.
  2. There is no way for me to return to them with a comment or even a thank you.  This is not about getting a conversation going with customers, it is about doing something that the company thinks is what the customer wants without asking, or allowing for exchange.  What if I prefer that they take the cost of this and donate it to charity? or a local food bank? or just wanted to say “thank you, awesome job”.  The arrogant assumption that because they did something the case is closed is very, very wrong.  Unfortunately, this is what happens in most organizations today.  The proper way to solve this issue would have been to say “What can we do for you? What can we do better?”.  Engagement means to listen as well as you speak.
  3. At the end of the email there is a sentence “As our valued guest (…)” that makes be believe this is not an offer of peace, just a token to shut me up.  Am I a valued customer? To whom? To the three employees who were not being helpful yesterday? To the one who wanted to blame the problems in someone outside of the company? To the person who sent me the email without a way to continue the conversation?  I don’t think I am very valued.  As a matter of fact, it sounds phony and dishonest to me.  Alas, this is predominant in corporate communications these days – let’s call them associates instead of employees, or we call them valued guests instead of customers.  Honestly, I would prefer to be employed by an organization that shared my values and principles than be an associate to someone who is clueless.  I would prefer to be a happy customer than an unhappy “Valued guest”.  Honesty marries intentions with delivery, not intentions with words.

I would have preferred to have someone from United contact me and ask me for my input on how to make that experience better, how to improve the process, what to do about this experience not happening again — to anyone!  What’s that? If they do it for me they have to do it for all their customers? Sure, they do.

That way they will ensure to have lots of customers to take care of, as opposed to one less customer who won’t get to enjoy that free upgrade.

14 Replies to “Quick Update, United Responds – Still Does not Understand”

  1. Esteban – this is really a bad story, but sadly not atypical when dealing with large corporations. It is the same culture of arrogance that created the dreaded ‘issue’ to describe a problem and thinks it can avoid discussion by sending a cookie your way. It is the same culture that brought the US car makers to the brink of bankruptcy and beyond.

    In a way there are conclusions from this story that tie very well to your previous SCRM roadmap posts, most specifically the need for actionable insights. I suppose the first thing about those is the creation of a corporate culture that supports the collection of those insights and their implementation.


  2. While there are humans involved, they’re pawns. Their work is so prescripted that they are human machine parts: machines don’t have conversations. Machines also have no sense of ‘self’ and likewise have no sense of injury/brokenness and a need to heal repair.

    This my friend, is also the result of legislation/control/legal.
    .-= Rotkapchen´s last blog ..rotkapchen: @ekolsky You’re looking for understanding? Reminds me of the reverse when @donpeppers 1to1 did a piece on loyalty…"get a dog". =-.


  3. This would all make for a funny little video on YouTube(ala Dave Carroll) — if it were funny, that is. And I mean that only half-jokingly.

    Seems that if we want to participate in the process of changing the experience(other than talking with our wallets) we need to find a way to cut through the noise and clutter of this wonderful thing that is social media. It’s two-way: marketers have to be creative to get to us…and now I need to be a cinematographer/videographer or singer/songwriter to get heard, these days.

    Love point #2 above, by the way. Great, great thought! That idea should be mandatory starting yesterday!

    Here’s 500 miles so you can come right back and have a do-over. It’s onus! Yay! 😉

    Seattle, WA


  4. Esteban, I do have many stories like yours with American Airlines:

    (in spanish, but you can use the translate option) http://www.lijit.com/search?uri=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.lijit.com%2Fusers%2Fjesus_hoyos&q=American&type=blog

    But I do have this specific story about how American doesn’t know why I fly with them:

    (in spanish, but you can use the translate option) http://www.jesushoyos.typepad.com/crm_en_latinoamerica/2008/11/american-airlines-no-sabe-porque-yo-viajo.html

    They have a TV Ad telling the customer that they know why you travel, and in the ad they show a passenger checking in with no lines, boarding the plane with no chaos, and when you take your seat the flight attendant gives you a pillow… We know this is not true…

    I think that ALL airlines need to hire Disney to improve the customer experience! 😉
    .-= Jesus Hoyos´s last blog ..¿Sabes lo que es SCRUM? #crmlatam #CRM =-.


  5. Very good follow up Esteban,

    Reading between the lines of that note here are a few guesses;

    1) Yes they are trying – in that **some peon** was able to generate a token without kicking it upstairs to legal was probably a task that was debated for years!

    2) This one hit me recently – I will be writing on it myself, but monitoring / acting in social media often lacks one fundamental piece; (note that there is one word in the following that I detest – but it works!)

    Are those ‘voices’ that listen and respond through what we call social media, empowered – or enabled to actually do anything about it ???????

    At an organization United’s size it may be as simple as the customer service equivalent of a “bug tracking tool”

    The phrase “Can’t help you” does not change whether it is face to face or via twitter


    .-= Elliot Ross´s last blog ..On-line Backup – Speed Bumps =-.


    1. Elliot,

      Thanks for an interesting comment. To me, trying is not doing it wrong but recognizing the wrong behavior and trying to change it. This response was the same as I would have gotten if i I would have called to complain 4 years ago. This is not trying, it is perpetuating bad behaviors.

      I agree with you that empowerment would go a very long way towards ending these complaints – even more so that monitoring and responding… alas, organizations don’t understand that quite as well… unfortunately.

      Thanks for the read!


  6. Esteban, I am curious what your experience might look like if you were to encounter a “Social Customer Advocate” (my latest blog post) from United instead of a Customer Service Manager with hard dictated policies on how to respond as quickly and efficiently as possible and move on to their next case.

    In the end, employees are going to work for what they are measured on. It’s up to the company to establish new long term value metrics, and empower them to engage and wow customers.


    Best regards,
    .-= Brian Vellmure´s last blog ..The New (Social) Customer Advocate =-.


    1. Brian,

      Interesting question. I think that in any business function when the employees that carry it out are empowered you will see a major difference in results. I just wish that employers were to understand that as well.

      Will read your blog later, when time allows 🙂

      Thanks for the read


  7. Hi Esteban,

    Great post. I have my own nightmare experience with United Airlines – it was actually a case of the corporation completely turning around and ruining an incredibly fantastic experience that was provided by a checkin agent at Heathrow. But that’s another blog post….

    I think there are always examples of individuals going out of their way in spite of the corporate culture drummed in from the top. I also think that much of what you experience is down to people simply doing what they’ve always done in a culture of “I really need to stay under the radar and just keep my job.”

    Check out this post by Dustin Curtis on his blog. http://dustincurtis.com/incompetence.html

    Seems Dustin was so dissatisied by the online experience he received at the hands of American Airlines that he redesigned their home page and submitted it. To his surprise a member of their usability team sent a personal reply, which, with permission, Dustin posted. That well meaning employee was fired within an hour of his letter appearing online.

    Customer centric culture, indeed!

    This isn’t to excuse the attitude you see at the airport, just perhaps to help understand it.



    1. Gary,

      Thanks much for the comment and the link — indeed it was eye-opening (but not surprising).

      I will have to be fair to airlines and say they are not unique in their ills. Just about every organization run by old, staunch dinosaurs qualifies for lack of clue. Banks, Service Providers, Telcos — even government. I am beginning to see a light at the end fo the tunnel in the form of customers taking back their power. I am hoping that it will continue to change and help the newly reorganized enterprises realize the reason to be in business is not to feed fat bonuses to incompetent executives but rather to serve their customers. We lost that in the past 20 years.

      Thanks for reading and commenting…


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