Friday, June 04, 2004

Is United in trouble?

Thinking by Peter Davidson has a couple of posts regarding United Airlines.

The first post has a copy of a letter written to United that was originally sourced from here.  I am including the full text of the letter below because it is so astounding:

Larry D. De Shon
Senior Vice President
Marketing
United Airlines
PO Box 28876
Tucson, AZ 85726-8876


Larry:


I received your form letter dated November 26, 2001, in which you advise me that I will not have quite enough miles to requalify for 1K status. I want to thank you for the fascinating correspondence and assure you that my comments are not personally directed at you.


Every time I think it’s impossible for United Airlines to do one more thing that is counter-intuitive to creating success, I am stunned to find the company well is far deeper than I could imagine.

Here’s an example for you: My travel plans, like those of so many other frequent business travelers, were temporarily curtailed by the events of September 11. I would have easily qualified for 1K status without this interruption. Apparently, any history of travel purchases by repeat customers is of negligible concern to United.


I am intrigued by the relentlessly inappropriate decision making on the part of United; it seems no area of the organization is spared. Here is a chance to extend the program qualification period and retain the goodwill and patronage of your most loyal customers and yet the company chooses … not to. I commend United, for it is an undeniably bold strategy to treat customers as a commodity of inexhaustible supply and indefatigable loyalty. Flawed, dangerous, and bone-headed, certainly, but undeniably bold.


United is clearly in as much trouble after September 11 as the company was before September 11. Perhaps it is because United chooses to remain delusional and blame outside circumstances for inside problems. The company has publicly avowed that terrorists, the economy, the weather, government interference, the lack of government interference, labor relations, sudden and radical changes in the customer culture, not enough customers, too many customers.


Regardless of which excuse one picks (and I would love to know the decision- making process for this amongst United management -- does it involve darts?), one thing is clear: United is doomed and has been doomed for quite some time. The company does not have customers; it has hostile advocates who have been forced by convenience and monopolized routes, or temporarily bribed by discounted fares and frequent flyer programs, into a minimum show of grudging allegiance.


I don’t mean to dismiss the effort this must have taken. Through a combination of diligent activities extending from the loftiest senior manager to the lowliest "customer service representative" Team United has turned what could often have been a discretionary purchase into a margin-shredding commodity purchase.


Listen, I can live very well without the 1K status; it’s hardly a badge of honor to fly frequently on United. The United levels should begin with "Loser," increase to "Total Loser," and top out with "Inoperable Loser." And I could care less what happens to United -- quid pro quo -- since United could care less what happens to me.


I only write this letter to thank you, on behalf of your entire, um, organization. I consult at the highest levels to many of the smartest, fastest, and most demanding companies in the world. And I give keynote speeches all over the world to business executives. I don’t know how much harder I’d have to work if United didn’t continually supply me with fresh material. I’ll certainly share your letter and I really appreciate the effort the company makes to keep itself relevant as a case study for corporate suicide.


 
Keep up the… work.


 
Sincerely,


Stan Slap

Pretty incredible right?

The second post is what Peter Davidson thinks United should do now: narrow their focus to the baby boomer generation.   Here are his main thoughts on how United could accomplish this with my comments (click through to his blog to read his comments):

  • Humanize the planes.  I totally agree: more legroom, leather seats, DirecTV . . . all the things that make me enjoy flying Frontier.  Peter's got some more ideas.
  • Provide communications technology.  I totally agree; I'm willing to pay for it, just like I'm willing to pay to watch DirecTV on Frontier.   Communications and entertainment services, especially Internet service, I am happy to pay for.
  • Appropriate entertainment.  I'll take it one step further: provide entertainment systems that work!  I was watching (or trying to watch) a movie on a recent United flight and either the system or the tape (or both) were all screwed up, causing the sound to screw up every five minutes.
  • Invest in ground facilities.  Streamline everything, make the curb to jetway experience the easiest for me and I'll fly you every time.  Want to know how not to do it?  Visit Southwest at LAX around 6AM on a weekday.
  • Reality check [your] frequent flyer program.  Please, for the love of god fix the system that used to be the standard for the industry.  I use your stupid credit card to get miles (and pay for the privilege), my Safeway card is linked to get miles, I get your miles when I rent from Hertz -- reward me appropriately!
  • Staff accordingly.  Your staff should be able to relate to your target customers.  Enough said.

I remember receiving such over-the-top service when traveling with my family that we would write letters about flight attendants.  When traveling frequently along the same routes we would see those flight attendants again and again and United would reward flight attendants for receiving customer praise with some sort of bonus or pay bump and a pin signifying X number of praising letters.  Does this even happen anymore?  I sure don't see those pins anymore.

8 comments:

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My family always used to fly United. Then, this Summer, we flew from San Francisco to Boston on United. The plane was filthy. Service was terrible. We tried to upgrade to first class, and we found that the gate personnel were completely unable to either give us accurate information about whether seats were available, or to do the upgrade. It was the worst flying experience I have ever had.

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