United reworking Customer Experience

unitedcustomerexperienceThe airline industry is a great model for looking at big pain compressed into a short history.

It provides insights into cost cutting strategies, and how they play out over time.

Using our model from the Continents of the Contract Service World it’s easy to see how United’s new strategy can win in the struggling airline industry.

Before we look at what United is doing, let’s revisit our model’s four interconnected relationships:


EXPECTATION’s most important relationship is with the CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE as it shapes customers’ perception of delivered service – they’ll see in large part what they expect to see.


PROMISE’s most important relationship is with¬† EXPECTATION as it tells customers what to expect – customers may not believe it all, it provides context and tells customers what to look for.


ENGAGEMENT’s most important relationship is with the CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE as it shapes service’s moment of truth.


Where customers experience and assess service.

Airline Industry Past to Present

When the airline industry’s operating costs got out of whack years ago, airlines:

–> went into major cost cutting mode

–> eliminated free in-flight meals

–> passengers’ CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE changed, no free food

–> passengers started bringing their own food on board

–> airlines didn’t have money to increase cleaning budgets

–> planes got dirtier, which changed passengers’ CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

–> eventually flying in dirty planes became the norm

–> passengers’ EXPECTATION changed to “flying must be tolerated – not enjoyed”

United sees Opportunity


Once flying in dirty planes became the norm, United saw the opportunity to differentiate itself from the competition.

Its new strategy? Cleanliness. United is providing a more enjoyable CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE, saying “fly with us on a clean plane, who wants to fly in a dirty one?”

They’ve invested in deep cleaning every two weeks, steam cleaning and floor to ceiling wipe downs. And they’ve created a new position, General Manager of Cabin Appearance, to oversee the implementation of their clean plane strategy.

So far United is relying on Word of Mouth (WOM) to spread their new PROMISE, which is to fly on a clean plane, it’s enjoyable.

Don’t be surprised if they start marketing that new PROMISE in ads and media.

What does United’s strategy mean for facility services?

United saw EXPECTATION was lowered, and they could gain new business by raising their CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE relative to the alternatives (competition).

Facility services, in-house and out-sourced, are seeing their customers in severe cost cutting mode. This means facility services are skinnying way down too.

Whether its cleanliness, confidence in security, or reliability of mail – there comes a service level that’s so low the CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE is only tolerated, and not enjoyed.

What happens then?

Flight to Quality

It’s called the flight to quality. And it’s not just for airlines.

It happens to customers who have a choice to buy service somewhere else.

It also happens to end-users who have a poor CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE in the facility where they have to work. End-users will seek to work in other areas, sites, at home, or even leave for other companies if that’s available. And those that stay are less productive.

It’s like working on a plane with gum on the floor, someone else’s leftover sandwich in the seat pocket, and sticky all over the fold-down tray. Yes, you can work, but its not enjoyable, and you’re not as productive. Honestly, admit it.

How are you differentiating your CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE?

Image by: Steven Damron


Chris Arlen
President, Service Performance

Technorati: Customer Experience, facility service, United Airlines

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