United Airlines has a lot to learn about customer service. They have long been under scrutiny—a 2016 report in BloombergBusinessweek stated that United received 43 percent of all customer complaints filed against U.S. airlines and finished last among the non-discount airlines in the 2015 JD Power & Associates satisfaction survey. In October 2016 their failure to provide a wheelchair for a man with cerebral palsy resulted in the passenger having to crawl off the plane.
This week they added physical assault to the list of offenses when security was called to yank a Kentucky doctor off the plane after he refused to give up his seat to an airline employee. The video of the doctor being physically dragged and bloodied has gone viral around the world and created a public relations nightmare for the company. The doctor, who just wanted to return home with his wife from Chicago, was left with a broken nose, concussion and two missing teeth. He is suing the airline, which shouldn’t be allowed to treat anyone this way.
I spent a large portion of my career in the retail sector and as a senior executive always advocated a customer-centric approach. Our goal was to have every point of contact with our customers to be a pleasant and positive experience. The best way to achieve this was to treat our employees the way we wanted them to treat customers.
I have no idea why this simple rule of retail has been forgotten by United, but as Helaine Olen discusses in the New York Times, the airline isn’t alone. The trend of treating middle-class customers shabbily while catering to the 1 percent has been increasing in recent years. But the situation at United goes far beyond the consumer. My experience and research has shown a company like United that mistreat customers also abuses employees. Psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces don’t encourage workers to have a passenger who isn’t a threat dragged off a plane. What kind of working conditions would make such a thing possible? It’s time we find out.
Andrew Faas is the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire.
Photo credit: The Red Dress/BloombergBusinessweek