I received this not from United Airlines today in response to my Forbes commentary.
Dear Mr. Rein:
We read with interest your column in forbes.com. You point out two examples of where we could have – and should have – performed better for our customers.
You also make some assertions that are just plain wrong about our company and about the great work that our employees do every day for thousands and thousands of customers, and our employees deserve better.
We are committed to serving our customers, having them feel cared for and respected throughout their experience with us. It is one of our core values. Our service metrics are improving, and we are investing in training for our people, including sending groups of employees to the Disney Institute for service skills training.
Further, in terms of customer satisfaction, being dependable and on-time is the number one priority for airline customers. In this important measure (arrival within 14 minutes as reported by the DOT) United is first among the major carriers for the first five months this year – and so far our frontline employees have shared in $18M in incentive payouts in recognition of their work in delivering this result for our customers.
Satisfying customers is indeed important, as is repeat business, and we value our customers’ loyalty. It’s one of the reasons we have the industry’s leading frequent flyer program. Contrary to your assertions, we are making Mileage Plus even better for our customers. This week we announced we are eliminating close-in booking fees so that our customers can book last-minute trips and use their miles for no additional fee, and we are the only network carrier to do so. We have improved our reception areas for our most frequent flyers and we are expanding the number of carriers in the Star Alliance, the world’s leading airline alliance.
Further, we are upgrading the interiors of our airplanes with leather seats and new first and business class cabins for our international flights, and our customer satisfaction scores have shown steady increases the last four quarters.
There is no doubt that this economy is challenging for all, including our employees. Like many companies and virtually all airlines, we have had to reduce our staff as we reduced capacity. We have taken significant cuts in our salaried and management staff, and have worked cooperatively with our labor groups to mitigate job loss. In fact, through partnership with our flight attendant union, all of our flight attendant furloughs are voluntary, and those taking leave are eligible for healthcare and flight benefits.
People make mistakes, Mr. Rein. They are inevitable. How you respond to mistakes and correct them through process change and training is critical. In a business as large as ours, with 48,000 employees serving hundreds of thousands of customers every day, mistakes happen. And, in the world where communication is global and constant, often missteps become very public, in spite of their anecdotal nature. They are also a bit more difficult to correct than simply changing a mistake online – such as correcting the fact that Axe is a Unilever product, rather than one from Procter & Gamble.
We have great employees who are committed to United, to our customers and to delivering great service. To suggest otherwise simply ignores the facts. We invite you to come in to United and learn the facts, meet our people and see their commitment to our company and our customers firsthand.
Tony (I have not included his last name for his privacy reasons)
SVP and Chief Communications Officer