One man’s fish is another man’s poison. When United dragged a passenger violently off a plane, many competitors took the chance to take a jab at United while at the same time try to drag United’s market share to their own advantage.
In a ruthless business environment, where being profitable also meant ensuring every employee gets to bring bread to the table, stepping on a fallen competitor is the only up.
However, for an Asian like me, I choose to take a more compassionate action: to learn from someone else’s mistakes. And I would like to thank United for being a case study example for decades to come.
First, a recap of the incident:
United needed to offload 4 passengers, because they had to position 4 crew to the destination in order to operate another flight. Flight 3411 was full, and they could not sacrifice a flight of passengers just because 4 passengers from the preceding flight would not disembark. After calls for volunteers failed, they randomly picked 4 passengers, of whom, 3 were compliant. The last one refused to alight and the security was called upon to extract said passenger out of the aircraft.
To be fair to United, it was the action of the security personnel (who do not belong to United) who executed the bloody extraction.
Many blamed the crew for being too rigid and the company for focusing on procedures, for the resulting action.
Martin Lindstrom said in his article that companies focus too much on processes. I think all that happened was due to an underlying lack of respect for users.
If United had respected their customers, they would have known that they would not have simply left the plane for a mere USD800. That value offered may be more than a plane ticket, but people, who form the customer base, do not just base their decisions on the face value of a ticket alone.
Time lost, inconvenience caused, and domino effects are on the minds of every passenger who had to make the decision of whether to accept that offer. If they don’t, it just meant that the compensation was not comparable with their perceived opportunity cost.
Why do I say that every company, especially those in Singapore, has the potential to behave like United?
Just a few days back, I went to a food place to order a bowl of fishball noodle. I specifically asked for no chilli. The chef only recalled that request just before putting the noodles into the bowl. So she threw that chilli away, added the sauces for non-chilli version, and then filled the bowl up with the noodles.
I knew about that, because the chilli oil was all over the inside of the bowl and my food was spicy.
In Singapore’s food places, there are varying levels of such disrespect for the choices of customers.
Some food handlers use the same ladle to dish out the sauces, including chilli.
All food handlers throw in scallions / parsely / coriander without asking if their customer wanted them.
Yes, I’m raising this, because I do not want those things in my food.
The only place I know of with food handlers that respect their customers is Taiwan. They hawkers either asked if their customers wanted those condiments, or left the scallions in the spoon that was served to customers, so that the latter need not pick them out from their food piece by piece.
Many local food handlers brushed off my complaints by saying, “Everybody likes them!” or “You won’t die one!”
But to me, that is blatantly disrespecting the person they are trying to sell their products to.
If they could not even respect their customers by not adding unnecessary and undesirable ingredients to their food, they will definitely have the propensity to drag a customer away just so that the said customer will not stop their daily operations.
Just last week, a netizen complained about a drinks stall that charged her wrongly for 2 beverage, and tried to brush her away by saying the prices of the drinks had changed (which did not, as evident when she probed further).
And we have all heard of stories from salespersons that, whenever a customer wanted them to look for a new set of shoes/clothing (because the customer did not want to take the display set home), they would say the display set was the only one left, just so they need not go into the store room to do a search.
In the area of training, the management are always looking for ways to cut training costs, by reducing training days, cutting down on the number of trainers, cutting down on training aids etc. Some even wanted their own, non-trained personnel to develop training courseware! Many managers overlooked the need of the learners in their pursuit for cost-reduction; the end result is that training outcome declined along with the reduction of training support.
Many of the difficulties we faced in getting what we needed stemmed from the reason that most people do not respect the needs of others. And for companies that rely on providing customer service, it is oh-so-ironic that they also fall into the bad habit of ignoring customer needs.
United’s experience is a stern reminder to every manager and leader out there, that if we make a living out of providing a service to someone, we have to respect the need of that someone.
Apple, the evergreen example of positive implementation of business strategies, broke out of the conventional business model when they offered iPod users the ability to engrave their names on their iPods (on top of being able to choose from a variety of colours). Apple succeeded because they respected the need of their users, who wanted to own device that is unique to them. It caused more work for Apple’s production line, but they earned the loyalty of a whole hoard of followers in the decade to come.
Disclaimer: I am a casual social commentator, who speaks because it is logical and rational, so my points are not necessarily based on established research and studies. As much as possible, I will refer to theories and knowledge I picked up through formal education. If you do agree to my ideas, please feel free to contaminate others in your social circle. If you disagree, though, it would be good to provide sources and credits, so that I can learn from my mistakes.