Brands Be Damned, It’s Customer AS Experience

Photo Credit: Nick Herasimenka

The United drama continues to spin out of control. Yesterday, the brand seemed to not suffer major damage from the PR nightmare (heck, they were up 1%). As the news cycle droned on, however, and more information came to light — things changed.

This morning, United is currently look at almost $830MM in lost market value if this continues through the close of the bell.

“Investors largely shrugged on Monday at the widespread criticism of United, as the airline’s stock finished yesterday’s session 0.9% higher, adding about $200 million to the company’s market cap. But now with Tuesday’s drop, the stock is on pace to be down around 2.8% for the week, reducing the carrier’s market value by more than $600 million since Friday’s close.
Tuesday’s selloff suggests many investors think the carrier’s business could suffer given the furor over the incident. Videos of the bloodied passenger being dragged off the plane by law enforcement have been widely shared on social media.”
Source: MarketWatch, “United’s stock is falling 3.7% and wiping $830 million off the airline’s market cap

What went wrong? A lot.

United CEO gave his initial statement apologizing, but later, in a leaked memo, he clearly had another opinion on the matter (emphasis mine):

“Like you, I was upset to see and hear about what happened last night aboard United Express Flight 3411 headed from Chicago to Louisville. While the facts and circumstances are still evolving, especially with respect to why this customer defied Chicago Aviation Security Officers the way he did, to give you a clearer picture of what transpired, I’ve included below a recap from the preliminary reports filed by our employees.
As you will read, this situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help. Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this. While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.
I do, however, believe there are lessons we can learn from this experience, and we are taking a close look at the circumstances surrounding this incident. Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are, and we must always remember this no matter how challenging the situation.”
- Oscar Munoz, CEO, United Airlines

This statement demonstrates the 3most frustrating aspects of this entire situation.

Rules Make Us Right

I think no one contests, at this point, that there are rules in place that govern how airlines, airports, employees and passengers are to exist together. These rules can often seem draconian (for all parties, mind you), but we’ve become relatively accustomed to this environment.

What’s not as useful, however, is the way these rules are being deployed. Whereas there was dialog, now there are directives. Everyone feels a bit more on edge it seems and our common decency and courtesy is going out the door.

Going for the rule book just pours gasoline when almost anything else would have worked.

Customer is Always Wrong

It used the be that the customer was always right. That’s a foolish line of thinking, even the best customer support people will tell you that. However, while we can’t control their perception, we can control how we handle it.

Today, companies seem more and more obsessed with shareholders over customers. It’s United now, but it will be someone else later. If every time a brand acts we have to second guess what their intentions are, we’re on a slippery slope. Both parties lose, but one loses biggest.

Customers can sometimes find alternatives, but lock-in and market conditions have driven us, ironically, to fewer choices in an age when choice is usually the source of our paralysis. Seems no one can catch a break.

Brands Are Tone Deaf

Brands are full of shit and everyone knows it. Public promises are often backed up with fleeting changes and lip service. Rarely does a brand make the change that is needed — why would they.

I commend Oscar Munoz for sticking up for his employees — he’s like right they did their best, but their best wasn’t good enough. His memo only confirms, however, the sinking feeling we all feed — we don’t really matter and they don’t really care. It’s a shame, wrapped in a sham.

Customers have to protest with their wallets, not tweets.

This torrent of commentary is shining a light on a real problem, one that we’ve all been aware of for far too long with far too many companies. Unfortunately, it is only our action that can put this to rest, before the entire snafu is papered over. If not, we should just stop complaining.


Customer experience has received an endless amount of coverage and flattery from the same brands most egregiously delivering sub-par experiences. For most, it is the lightweight application of systemic platitudes and optimizations to cushion a faulty product. In truth, customer experience is about understanding and internalizing your customer as the experience of your product, company and brand.


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