When Policy Undermines Service – Lessons Learned from United Airlines

When Policy Undermines Service – Lessons Learned from United Airlines

When Policy Undermines Service – Lessons Learned from United Airlines

When it comes to customer service, even the world’s most prestigious brands can get it wrong.

Consider the recent service missteps of United Airlines that put policies before passenger needs. In one instance, the airline forcibly removed a traveler from a flight, injuring him in the process.  More recently, a toddler was reassigned from a seat that cost more than $900 to his mother’s lap when a stand-by customer was accidentally assigned the same seat.

In both cases, the airline was simply following its own policies.

According to CNN, Dr. David Dao was removed from a flight last April due to overbooking, a common practice among airlines today.

“Overbooking is not illegal, and most airlines do it in anticipation of no-shows,”  the article states, adding that if no one volunteers to deboard, an airline has the authority to select passengers for removal based on “criteria such as check-in time or the cost of a ticket, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fly-Rights.”

While United employees may have been in compliance with company policy and federal regulations when Dr. Dao was escorted off his flight, a costly legal and P.R. nightmare ensued as a result.

In the case of the toddler whose seat was given away, according to ABC News the United Airlines manual states that “children under the age of 2 are allowed to travel on an adult’s lap.”

That may be the company’s policy, but in this situation the toddler’s mother was inconvenienced to the point where “holding 25-pound Taizo in her lap during the flight caused her to temporarily lose feeling in her legs and left arm,” the article says.

Creating Policies That Serve

So how can credit unions learn from mistakes made by United and others to develop policies that enhance the member experience, protect their brand and empower employees to make the right decisions when the unexpected occurs?

If it’s been a while, now might be a good time to pull your policies off the shelf and give them a closer look.  Here are a few points to consider:

  1. Evaluate every policy from the member’s point of view.

IDEO’s widely-acclaimed “human-centered-design” approach to problem solving emphasizes the importance of “empathy” in all business practices, noting that solutions emerge naturally when the people you are there to serve come first.

As noted by Emi Kolawole, editor-in-residence for Stanford University’s d.school, “Empathy is the capacity to step into other people’s shoes, to understand their lives, and start to solve problems from their perspectives.”

  1. Each situation is different. Give your employees discretion.

A recent Business2community.com article points out the critical role employees play in an organization’s service proposition. “A customer-focused company empowers employees to make decisions that are for the benefit of the customer,” the author notes, adding that framing policies as guidelines versus rules for employees is a best practice whenever “it isn’t illegal, immoral, won’t cost the company money (although sometimes that’s still okay), and won’t harm the company’s reputation.”

  1. Policies can be changed for the better – and United Airlines has done just that.

As reported in USA Today, the company now has new updated policies in place to improve the customer experience, including “limiting the use of law enforcement to safety and security issues only,” reducing overbooking, eliminating the practice of deboarding passengers involuntarily, increasing compensation for voluntary deboarding, and establishing a “customer solutions team to provide agents with creative solutions.”

Bottom Line: When customer – and member – needs drive policy, brands win in the end.