Dispatch from the “Slough of Despond” Known as Economy Plus

Posted by jlubans on April 24, 2017

Caption: At less than a penny a mile, I knew what to expect when I traveled on Guatemala's Blue Bird busses.

A couple days before I posted about dis-service (most of it was drafted in a fitful doze on board a United/SAS flight on March 29) there came news of the April 9th arrest and physical removal of a United passenger. And, as I write this, there’s another incident in San Francisco of an American Airline’s employee losing it over a baby pram, offering to do battle, "Hit me! Come on, bring it on!"
Such behavior, I think, is all too predictable. It’s what happens when service is depreciated to not just the economic “bitter spot”* but to the “breaking point”.
A steady degrading of the customer’s value will lead to bad behavior among all involved.
It is surprising violence does not break out more often, although some say it does – not physical violence, but there are reports of agitated customers letting off steam, not just drunks but regular people. Many suffer in silence.
When an airline (or any organization) denigrates its service, the staff become passive/aggressive while customers become aggressive.
What do you think that lady is doing trying to stuff an enormous suitcase into an all ready full-to-bursting overhead bin? No one can get past her and the flight sits.
On our March 29 transatlantic leg on an already 4-hour delayed SAS flight, one woman insisted she was entitled to all five seats in the middle row in Economy Plus because she could not upgrade to the slab seating in first class.
My wife had a sore knee and had moved directly across to that row’s empty aisle seat; the women - stretched out across four seats - kept nudging her with her feet.
No flight attendant intervened until my wife moved to one of many vacant seats a few rows up in business class. Gotcha! An eagle-eyed attendant swooped down on her and ordered her back to Economy Plus.
We all have war stories.
But, I digress.
It was interesting to see the furor over the dragged-off passenger and subsequent responses from management consultants as to what should have been done, what could have been done, and what he or she would have done. Few see any of this as a corporate leadership failure. At least one speculated that if United’s so-called “core values” had been invoked the incident would never have happened.
I have no quarrel with the economic evidence that we consumers will put up with shabby service for a low price – even a 10% reduction will prompt us to buy a ticket on an airline we swore never to fly on again!
Yes, I will pay out hundreds of dollars and put up silently with Draconian seats, no complimentary food or drinks, harried and overburdened attendants, and embittered fellow passengers, as long as I get where I want to go in a decent amount of time.
United’s core values, as claimed by one writer, are the following**:
“Warm and welcoming is who we are;
We make decisions with facts and empathy;
We earn trust by doing things the right way.”
I have rarely seen these alleged core values in practice. Indeed, just the opposite:
Cool and distant is who we are;
We make decisions based solely on profit;
We earn dis-trust by doing things the wrong way
How do you think that happens? What makes decent people, like United employees, become more like abusive traffic cops and passengers more like sullen prison inmates?
What happened on United (and American) is exactly what their corporate practices lead to. Corporate practice trumps any core values however high falutin’.
Just like when the former head of Wells Fargo Bank unctuously declared how wonderful their historic core values were and how splendid their leadership was (of course, led by him).
All the while, senior W-F leaders were pressuring junior staff to sign people up, without permission, for bogus accounts. And, when the juniors resisted, they were tossed aside.
Treat people shabbily, rudely, then forget your declared core values. This applies to any organization, including not for profits, like higher education. The more you pervert your stated values, the more ludicrous and hypocritical you appear.
* The bitter spot is not the “sweet spot”, that happy intersection of profitability and excellent customer service. Rather, the bitter spot is the “price point” and intersection at which a disgruntled customer is dissatisfied but not enough to go to a competitor. The underlying rationale being that a “low” price goes hand in hand with minimal or bad service. In other words, comfort and good service are not to be expected, they must be bought. Consider the psychological inhibitions of that last item on service-minded staff.

** I was not able to find these core values on the United web site. Instead there is a list of actions under the heading,
“Our United Customer Commitment.”
“We are committed to providing a level of service to our customers that makes us a leader in the airline industry. We understand that to do this we need to have a product we are proud of and employees who like coming to work every day.” (Emphasis added.)
Advise about lowest available fares

Notify customers of known delays, cancellations and
Deliver baggage on time

If they really believe their standard of service needs be that of the “airline industry” then they have a very low standard to meet. How about changing the “airline industry” to the “hospitality industry”?

N.B. My new book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in June 2017 as an e-book ($15.00) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($25.00). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017
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