I am the Consumer, Hear me Roar

Today’s guest post is by Peppercomm President, Ted Birkhahn.

tedYesterday, Repman wrote about truth in marketing using United Airlines as a prime example of a brand not practicing what it preaches. Today’s blog is also about United (sorry, United, we really aren’t picking on you but there just too much to write about) with a focus on failing to meet customer expectations.

This past weekend, I had the displeasure of flying United from NYC to Chicago. And what I quickly realized was something that most of the airline industry – United, in particular – hasn’t figured out yet.

As a consumer of many things, my expectations on everything from customer service to brand experience to product innovation are set high by the likes of Apple, American Express and others who have built their brands on delighting the customer across the board. So, when I fly, and the airline fails to deliver on some or all of these areas, it creates huge disappointment and an erosion of trust with the brand.

It is unfair to expect United Airlines to treat me as well as Apple? Am I being unrealistic to demand that a major airline provide me with a level of service that I have come to expect from the likes of Starbucks or Nike? In today’s globally connected service economy, where technology enables brands to listen better and tailor their solutions to fit a customer’s individual needs, the answer to these questions should be a resounding no.

ted united . jpgBy way of example, the United planes were old and dirty, and personal entertainment was nonexistent. On the return flight, the Wi-Fi didn’t work. To make matters worse, the flight was delayed for mechanical reasons. As I sat on the plane in an indefinite delay, United sent me three automated emails with false departure times. What’s more, when I tweeted @United, I received an unhelpful, canned response.

My overall experience was more akin to shopping at Kmart than it was to being treated like royalty at my local TD Bank or hanging at Starbucks. United needs to realize their competition is not just American or Delta, it’s any other brand that provides consumers with a positive, tailored experience that meets and even exceeds their expectations.

And I don’t want to hear excuses that the airlines are too big or cash strapped to give me the experience I deserve. If Amex and Starbucks can do it, so can United. It’s a new world for consumer brands and like many, my expectations are being shaped by customer service and experience leaders from all walks of life.  Brands like United need to step it up or step aside.

Do you agree? Should brands be held accountable based on experiences that customers get from non-competitive brands and industries? Let me know your thoughts.

4 thoughts on “I am the Consumer, Hear me Roar

  1. The problem is not the airlines, Ted. The problem is that you have unrealistic expectations. Nowadays, to think you are going to get friendly service, or any service, or any sympathy, or no bullshit from the airlines is silly. They say what they want, when and if they want. They lie, cheat and steal to make a buck and don’t care. When I fly, I have one expectation: to end up in the second city listed on my ticket. If that happens, them I am satisfied. Anything else is gravy.

  2. I believe all businesses — regardless of size — should focus on customer service. Elaborate marketing and advertising campaigns are meaningless when you’re treated disrespectfully by a customer service rep who has no vested interest in keeping you as a customer.