Over-Promise And Under-Deliver Is Not A Good Strategy


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united-airlines-logo1While the headline is true, if everyone in your industry does it, you can get away with it longer than is reasonable. Today’s examples are airline related (where else can you find such easy examples of this).

I made the mistake of flying United on a transcontinental non-stop again this week. For reasons that make no sense to me, but likely focused on ease of operations, United consistently flies transcontinental non-stops from SFO to NYC, EWR (Newark) and Boston using planes without wi-fi, seat power or any other modern amenity one might now expect; especially on a 5 hour flight.

However to add insult to injury before the flight without wi-fi, seat power, or seat back entertainment takes off, you are provided with a video developed by a clueless marketing communications group touting the outstanding in-cabin wi-fi, seat power and seat back systems they are deploying across their entire fleet. Of course I understand that it takes time to deploy, but who in their customer-focused, right mind would deploy un-equipped airplanes on transcontinental flights, while then bragging about how “modern” they are?

jetblueTo get “even” I flew back on Jet Blue. Don’t fly them much, used to be a big fan because the CEO practiced what I preached, which is to get out with customers. He got fired after a couple of ice storm incidents at JFK, and my perception was that Jet Blue was becoming like most other airlines. Some told me that was not true. Well, I am writing this blog post from my Even More Space Jet Blue seat, so you can assume wi-fi works, which it does, and it’s free. So kudos to them for that.

Kudos also to the captain who walked the entire gate area shaking hands with the passengers and introducing himself. And more kudos to him for talking to all of us by standing in the aisle and not from behind the security door in the cabin. Nice gestures, but not what really matters. Had they executed on what really matters, that would be icing on the cake. But they failed at what matters. To wit:

  1. It was obvious we were going to leave late when the inbound plane was not even at the gate 30 minutes before take off. However, when queried the gate agent insisted we would leave on time, or at least close and would arrive on time. We left 30 minutes late.
  2. Since he would never admit we were going to leave late, I did not leave the gate area to get food for the flight (6 hours). But I wasn’t really worried as most airlines (Southwest the notable exception) have in-flight sandwiches and salads on longer flights.
  3. At my seat I found the food choices selection and was pleased to see two good options. When the flight attendant came by I asked if I could order a sandwich. She said no they did not offer them on this flight. I, (being snarky) said, “oh too short of a flight.” She smiled and said no, that they found little demand for food on this flight so they stopped having the sandwiches. Ok, I get it, but a pre-flight announcement would have been handy.
  4. Fortunately they had my favorite standby snack, the fruit and cheese plate. I ordered it for a bit more money than the other airlines charge, but hey it’s Jet Blue it should be better than average. Bad assumption on my part. It sucked. It was sparse and tasteless. Why?
  5. We are going to land 30 minutes late and while the flight attendants are nice and the cabin is comfortable and the wi-fi is free, they are nothing special, and in fact are pretty much like all the other majors.

This simply re-enforces my belief that the airlines have a secret meeting each year to discuss how much lower they can set the bar and not get in trouble. Of course Southwest is not invited.

Make sure you deliver as promised and don’t substitute fluff for a failure to deliver on the basics.


Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mitchell Goozé
Mitchell Goozé is the president and founder of Customer Manufacturing Group. His broad scope of business experience ranges from operations management in established firms, to start-up and turn-around situations and mergers. A seasoned general manager, he has headed divisions of large corporations and been CEO of independent firms, always focusing the company strategy on the most important person in business . . . the customer.


  1. Mitchell, Hmm!
    I read your article with a smile, because I could relate to it. But the point is are customers dumb? Are they the only ones who notice this, and the smart companies think they can get away with this?
    Why do companies behave the way they do, knowing they are flying into oblivion?

  2. Gautham, my conclusion as to why the airlines (other than Southwest) operate this way is because all of them do, as I noted at the end of the article. Why does one of them not stand out in the crowd? Maybe because passengers don’t care enough to pay for it? Since much travel is paid for by companies for their employees and they virtually all have policies mandating the lowest cost major carrier be selected, this could also be driving the behavior.

    All that being said, Southwest is different, and in many ways better. But they have their downsides as well if you don’t fly them a lot or if you don’t want to be at your computer 24 hrs to the minute before take off to get that good boarding #. (though you can pay extra for early check in)

    I don’t fly them because their routes are too limited, but I hear that Virgin America is different. But many small carriers start out with a difference. Only Southwest has sustained it and/or not been acquired.

  3. Fab story Mitchell – many thanks for sharing it. I sometimes think that organisations believe that all customers have had a lobotomy prior to interacting with them. Not only are we (customers that is) not stupid, we are actually becoming more demanding. That makes it even more important for companies to actually experience the experience for themselves so they know what it FEELS like to actually be a customer receiving the promises that are never actually delivered! The airline industry is like no other – the opportunity to be different is absolutely there for the taking – some are waking up to that fact, but many are still lagging behind. Ultimately it is the thing that airlines keep taking for granted that will lead to the current environment changing. That thing is us!


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