Does the new United Continental Holdings care about the customer experience?


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After reading Monday’s press release of the announced United and Continental Airlines merger, I was struck by a couple of things…

While the opening sentence was long on industry buzzwords (superior service, unparalleled access, sustainable long-term value, etc.), it was entirely absent on how exactly the customer experience would be enhanced by the merger. Here’s that first sentence:

“Continental (NYSE: CAL) and United (NASDAQ: UAUA) today announced a definitive merger agreement, creating the world’s leading airline with superior service to customers, expanded access to an unparalleled global network serving 370 destinations around the world, enhanced long-term career prospects for employees, and a platform for improved profitability and sustainable long-term value for shareholders.”

I almost laughed (and then cried) when I came across the line touting “superior service to customers”. Do the authors of this press release (and I’m presuming that the release was approved by both CEO’s) really think that they provide superior service to customers today? Just take a look at the 2009 North American Airline Satisfaction Survey by JD Power to find the answer to that question. While Continental Airlines ranks near the top of the survey, United ranks at the bottom – almost dead last among all North American carriers. I fail to see how the combined entity will provide anything other than average service to its customers once the dust has settled and the two airlines have merged into one.

If you scroll down a few paragraphs in the release, there is mention of an “unparalleled network serving communities worldwide with outstanding customer service.” Again, long on buzzwords, short on substance. I’d be willing to wager that most of United’s and Continental’s existing customer base could care less about any type of network serving communities worldwide. What they (and the majority of airline passengers) care most about is the customer experience. How will the combined airline provide this self-proclaimed ‘outstanding customer service’? Will the new organization adopt Continental’s current customer service model or will it be business as usual with United’s tired and substandard model?  Will the new organization invest additional resources to improve customer service? If so, how will the customer benefit. These are the questions that need to be answered during important announcements like this. Be specific. Tell us how.

So here’s my advice to the leadership of the newly announced United Continental Holdings…Eliminate the industry buzzwords – especially when it comes to superior customer service because by all current measurements, your current service is anything but superior. Talk to your customers – focus on their experience. Tell them in real terms how the merger will positively affect this experience. Give them specific examples about how service will be enhanced. Give them reasons to trust you.


Republished with author's permission from original post.

Patrick Lefler
Patrick Lefler is the founder of The Spruance Group -- a management consultancy that helps growing companies grow faster by providing unique value at the product level: specifically product marketing, pricing, and innovation. He is a former Marine Corps officer; a graduate of both Annapolis and The Wharton School, and has over twenty years of industry expertise.


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