Improving United Airlines Customer Experience

With all the outpouring of emotion around United Airlines last week, we thought this would be a good opportunity to use our platform to identify specific actions United could take to improve customer experience.  Social media has a tendency to generate polarized, collective outrage - whereas Kannetic’s social platform is designed to foster collaborative Collective Intelligence.  We thought this could be a useful experiment in turning outrage into intelligence.

We built a Custom Kannetic solution specific to airline travel and recruited a panel of United customers to participate in a focus group using it.   In just a couple of days of easy, rapid participation by panelists, Kannetic’s platform enabled the customer panel to identify and align on a number of specific suggestions for United Airlines to improve customer experience.  While there was strong agreement amongst customers that the airline needs a complete mindset shift, here are fifteen of the top specific ideas for how United can improve the experience of customers and turn around its negative reputation:

1.    Make it transparent when someone is buying a ticket if the flight is fully booked.

2.    If the flight is overbooked, make a higher offer until someone volunteers. The offer can be low cost to United, but high value to customer (e.g. travel).

3.    If the flight is overbooked, never vacate boarded passengers.

4.    Have a clear benchmarking table that compares for customers the differences of fare classes.

5.    If a customer is buying a fare that is highly restricted, require that the buyer indicate consent and understanding of restrictions.

6.    Give phone agents more authority to approve or decline exceptions to fare rules.

7.    Ensure that there are real consequences for United staff for unprofessional behavior.

8.    Provide a way (via an app) for clients to immediately report malfeasance by gate agents and FAs/flight crew.

9.    Emphasize to United staff the importance of projecting a positive attitude through basics like smiling, listening, politeness (follow the lead of competitors like Korean Airlines and Virgin Atlantic).

10. Let customers provide feedback forms or “appreciation” tokens directly to individual crew that results in some reward for them. If someone does a good job, customers should be able to reward them.

11. Make more beverage and food offerings available on flights.

12. At airports, have a lot more of the equivalent of the Delta "Red Coats" staff around to help diffuse situations.

13. Provide airport on-site agents more authority - don't make them call for approval for obvious situations.

14. Staff that boards the plane needs to be far more communicative - do what Southwest does and explain the process.

15. While most panelists do not think United should find a new CEO, there was strong agreement that United should bring in someone from a company that knows how to serve customers (e.g., Four Seasons) to run customer experience.

How The United Airlines Customer Experience Solution Worked

In the Prioritize phase of the solution, we asked 20 United customers whether they would recommend the airline.  They were also asked to evaluate where they thought United provided a positive customer experience and where it needed to improve along 17 steps of the air passenger customer journey.

You can see aggregate results from the 20 customers who took part in the Prioritize phase below. 

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We filtered these results to look only at detractors (e.g. panelists who said they would not recommend United to friends, family, and associates).  We then found five areas that stood out as particular concern for detractors.  You can see here those five areas and sentiment about them only from detractors.

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The concerns of these detractors are particularly important to United because they are the ones most likely to contribute to negative public sentiment about United.  So we selected these five areas as Priority Improvement Opportunities, and moved the solution into the Plan phase.  In the Plan phase, participants are able to suggest, vote on, and discuss specific actions United can take to improve in each of these five prioritized opportunities.

You can see an example of three of the many ideas suggested for improving customer experience around fare rules here:

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And you can see here some of the discussion in the solution that led to these ideas:

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We were surprised by the level of response we have had to this panel.  Within 48 hours of starting recruitment, we had a detailed list of prioritized improvement actions United could take to improve customer experience.  There was obviously a very strong desire amongst United customers to express their thoughts on how the airline can improve customer experience.  If you would like to see the results or add your thoughts, just sign up here and we will invite you onto the solution.