United Airlines Is Teaching Its Employees to be More Caring (Are You Ready For This?)
Is it something you can teach?
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
Large organizations don't move quickly.
They don't notice problems quickly. They don't address them quickly. And they don't change attitudes quickly.
After last year's painful experience following the sight of a paying passengers being dragged bloodied down the aisle by United-inspired law enforcement, the airline seemed stunned at the effects on its image.
So it set about trying to change things. It promised a new commitment to customers.
It promised to offer such decencies as treating passengers "fairly and consistently in the case of oversales."
There was also the somewhat basic "notify customers of known delays, cancellations and diversions."
And even the breakthrough "ensure responsiveness to customer complaints."
That was almost a year ago.
Only now, though, are the everyday employees being given training as to how to enact the airline's new attitude.
Last month, supervisors were offered a glimpse into what the airline was expecting and trained into how to begin delivering it.
In one word, the airline wants employees to show they "care."
Some might muse that another way of describing this is for employees to exercise "common sense in dealing with human beings."
Still, what the airline dubs its Core4 training is now being extended to the people you encounter the most -- the everyday employees you see on the plane, at the check-in counter, the gate and the bar (banging their heads against a large beer).
The Chicago Business Journal describes how the training has been received at LAX, where the airline is expanding its sphere of influence.
As the airline promised, it's trying to get employees to think less about rigid rules and more about what would satisfy the customer's needs at any given moment -- without the airline losing anything at all.
Other than its reputation for, well, imperfect customer service.
What moved me, though, was a quote from Les Bailey, a United employee, who had just gone through the four-hour training.
"What I walked away with was the emphasis that we're all in this together and regardless of our day-to-day job titles, we depend on one another to be successful. At the end of the day it's about being empathetic and caring toward each other and our customers," he said.
The question that might force itself into one or two minds is: What on earth was it like to work at United before?
Was it really a place where people didn't think they were in this together? Was it a place where job title dictated all?
Was it really a place where no one could depend on anyone else to be successful?
Is it really such a surprise that thinking about your fellow team-members and your customers is what makes for better customer service and, some would argue, a better airline?
How might a company allow itself to slip into such bad habits? By focusing solely on revenue, perhaps?
Still, one can't help worrying that what United might give with one hand, it will take away with a sly finger or two.
As it tries to be more caring, it's also shoving more seats onto planes.
As it tries to embrace empathy, it's trying -- along with other airlines -- to get the Department of Transportation to remove regulations such as the 24-hour grace period during which you can get a full refund on a ticket.
What's most important, of course, is whether passengers feel any difference.
In the coming weeks and months, then, these new attitudes should become a pleasant surprise to passengers.
I wonder how clear they will be.