Incentivizing Customer Service (Finally)

Finally taking note of something that Six Miles Out has stated for a long while, United Airlines is finally addressing their employee treatment in an effort to improve their customer service scores.  The company recently announced that its bonus structure for employees will be overhauled to focus less on on-time statistics and more on a holistic view of the organization’s benchmarks.

The issue of the link between employee happiness and customer satisfaction has been a cornerstone of the assertions made within many posts on this blog, and our article, “Happy Employees, Happy Passengers,” succinctly summarizes the rationale behind making such an assertion.  At long last, it seems that United has realized that the unhappiness of its employees is one — if not THE — true root cause of the carrier’s low customer service scores.  Even as the carrier begins to shrink its connection times at hubs, management at the company is taking other measures to ensure that customer service is seen as a concern of the second-largest airline in the United States.

Of some concern, however, is the method of assessing success in each category — United measures categorical success in simply out-placing a certain number of competitors.  It is surely not much of a stretch to surmise that if other airlines have a rough quarter or month, United can be stuck extending large bonuses to employees due to other airlines’ shortcomings and no real improvement of their own.  Taking this one step further, employees can easily put some cash in their pockets by encouraging relatives and friends with negative experiences on other carriers to simply voice their concerns, thereby elevating United when compared to its peers.  Perhaps this is a good set-up to launch a plan similar to Spirit’s, creating a more open dialogue between the carrier and its customers to try to address customer service complaints before they even appear.

Kudos to United for making a clear move to try to put the employee first.  Only time will tell how this move will benefit the passenger experience and how the airline fares in industry ratings.

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