United Airlines Can’t Advertise Its Way To Flyer-Friendly

United Airlines recently announced that its new brand campaign will resurrect its iconic tagline “Fly the Friendly Skies.” According to the United Airlines press release, “”Flyer-friendly” is “user-friendly” for today’s customers.” Tom O’Toole, United’s senior vice president of marketing and loyalty, says, “Our new brand campaign expresses the customer focus of all of United’s investments.” As Jane Levere points out in her NY Times article, “United is now telling travelers it is everything from “legroom friendly” and “online friendly” to “shut-eye friendly” and “EWR friendly.”

My take: Let’s start with some basic facts. United Airlines received a “poor” rating in the 2013 Temkin Experience Ratings. Its ratings are in the lower half of the airline industry, and the company showed no improvement over 2012.

In the 2013 Temkin Customer Service Ratings, United Airlines was in next-to-last place out of nine U.S. airlines (US Airways is the worst). United Airlines ranked 216th out of all 235 companies in the ratings.

Does that sound “flyer-friendly?” United Airlines will have a hard time backing up that claim today.

No matter how much companies spend on advertising, they can’t convince customers that they deliver a good experience — unless they really do. In the past, I’ve chided Comcast, JP Morgan ChaseCircuit City, and John Hancock for pushing these empty promises.

The path to being seen as flyer-friendly requires the organization to commit to delivering on that promise. I’ve highlighted a few good examples in previous posts: Alaska Airlines engaged its employees with its North of Expected campaign, Ford engaged its employees with its Drive One campaign, Staples redesigned customer interactions as part of its That Was Easy campaign, and JetBlue embedded its value across touchpoints in its Happy Jetting campaign.

My advice to United Airlines it to follow these CX Tips:

The bottom line: Don’t proclaim your flyer-friendliness, become flyer-friendly and then tell people about it

Written by 

I am an experience management transformist, helping organizations improve business results by engaging the hearts and minds of their customers, employees, and partners. My "job" is Head of the Qualtrics XM Institute. The Institute is still being established, but our goal is to help organizations around the world thrive by mastering Experience Management (XM). As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. Prior to joining Qualtrics, I was managing partner of Temkin Group (leading CX research, advisory, and training firm), co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), and a VP at Forrester Research. I'm a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Check out my LinkedIn profile: www.linkedin.com/in/brucetemkin

5 thoughts on “United Airlines Can’t Advertise Its Way To Flyer-Friendly”

  1. Hi Bruce. You are so right! United are setting themselves up for even more customer dissatisfaction by over-promising, and under-delivering. I’m assuming of course they haven’t had enough time to rectify all of the systemic issues that have resulted in the low Temkin ratings. They need to pay attention to your advice, implement a comprehensive CX program, then implement the “friendly skies” marketing program AFTER they are able to deliver the promised experience. The key to customer loyalty has, and always will be about alignment between the experience and the brand promise. Further, the promise doesn’t have to be a high touch, high-end experience. Just ask Costco who develop a high level of loyalty without delivering a boutique shopping experience. What they do exceptionally well is deliver high quality products at a fair price within a warehouse environment which tells their members they are controlling their costs – home run!

  2. Bruce, your bottom line captures the essence of United’s sin. We’d even be receptive to a claim that United is “trying to” improve. Customers value honesty and can spot a phony claim quickly. That failure to “come clean” erodes confidence and trust and ultimately impacts business. As your graphic shows, the airlines have work to do.

  3. I agree 100%. If anything a marketing brand at odds with its actual delivery will only further seperate the customers perception. They will expect more and be let down. Yesterdays, so-so service will now be see as poor even if nothing changed. For Uniteds sake, and all its cusotmers, lets hope they are taking steps internally to make sure there is alignment.

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