It has been months since Dr. David Dao was physically assaulted to leave United Flight #3411. I wonder what happened internally at United since April 9.
I tried to write about this when it first occurred. Those blogs didn’t seem to add to the conversation. My rant wasn’t about the employees, because they were following policy and not trained in alternatives. And because the employees were following United’s policy my rant was with the executive leadership team who created the policies.
Specifically, there was a rant about CEO Oscar Munoz’s response to customers. Being a United loyalty member, I received his email explaining the situation. It sounded more, “Oops, we got caught. We have a poor unfriendly customer policy, and now we realize it.” If there had been no video of the altercation, as three other customers peacefully left the flight, this poor policy would not have changed.
That’s not helpful and adds to the negativity that currently circles the service industry.
The Gurus’ Solution
What I believe happened at United is there was a policy written on overbooked flights, but there were not practical procedures written to enforce it, or procedures that encouraged creativity what to do if no passengers took the highest incentive offered.
Short-Term - Train Employees on Creatively Solving an Overbooked Flight
If the incentive went high enough, someone would have left the plane. Alternatively, how could the United employees on the flight been rerouted, if truly no passengers would leave? The classic Service Recovery solution is to simply ask the customer, “What do you want?”
What misses so many times in Service Recovery situations, the employees are not put through “What If” scenarios. United’s operation leaders should write several “What If” scenarios, with the company’s ideal response, and distribute them through their normal communication channels. It doesn’t have to be a proper in class training, although ideal, but just communication is a huge help to employees unsure what to do.
Long-Term - Rewrite Policies with Employee Input
Rewrite your policy and procedures WITH the employees closest to the situation's input. Policies tend to be written by the leadership team who rarely deal with customers. Their considerations are more financial or quantitative driven, and not always practical when handling customers. It is one thing to write a policy, it is something different to tell a customer to their face they are not getting what they want.
The gate team is the subject matter expert. They have seen it all, and have smart ideas how to solve it for next time. Use their knowledge to create smart policies and procedures that are fiscally responsible and customer friendly. It is absolutely possible to have both.
To develop strong policies and procedures is a good practice for any service industry. Seriously, in my career, I have never seen an employee who didn’t desire to do the right thing by the customer or the company. It always came down to lack of knowledge and lack of training for the “What if,” situations.
It’s a relatively easy fix, and it saves your organization embarrassment and certainly a huge pay-out.
Do the right thing.