United Airlines: A Reminder of the True Cost of ‘Operational Excellence’

We’ve all read about the recent United Airlines debacle, in which a passenger was forcibly ejected from a flight because he refused to give up his seat. The response from United has been baffling, including the CEO’s defense of the actions taken against this passenger, leaving many of us to wonder how a major corporation could make such a misstep in caring for its customers. Well the answer may be far simpler, and more pervasive, than one might think.

Operational Excellence is the Culprit

As Adam Hartung explained in his recent article for Forbes, this is a symptom of the airlines narrow-minded focus on operational excellence (the pursuit of internal efficiencies beyond all else). In itself, this business model isn’t a terrible thing. Performing duties efficiently and following policies can mean lower costs for customers and higher profits for businesses. However, when employees are compelled to follow policies to a tee—beyond common sense or the needs of the customer, then operational excellence becomes a serious issue.

In the case of the April 9th United Airlines flight, a 69-year-old passenger was forcibly removed to accommodate a flight attendant. United felt it more important to eliminate any disruptions in staffing than to meet the needs of their customers. Unfathomably, these actions were initially defended by CEO Oscar Munoz because the company follows a strict policy of operational excellence above all else. As a result, the airline is facing a public relations nightmare, one that has negatively affected stock prices and could lead to the CEO’s resignation.

Longevity Equals Good Customer Service

United Airlines holds the belief that customers only value the lowest price. As Hartung reveals, the CEO has been known to publicly dismiss complaints of poor customer service, including their appalling customer ranking when compared to other airlines, because lower costs and higher profits are considered the single most important achievement. However, the lowest price is rarely the most important marker.

The longevity of a business is determined solely by its customers. Of course, policies of efficiency that are proven to cut costs to customers are important, but these policies should never come before customer satisfaction. At Kapco Global, our emphasis on customer service is the biggest reason we are now the largest global distributor of aerospace parts. We truly operate from a customer-centric mindset and empower our employees to consider customer needs above all else. It’s this policy that has and will sustain us for the long-term.


Read More About Our Customer-Centric Policies on Our Blog

The Importance of Cultivating Customer Loyalty

What Does ‘Employee Ownership’ Mean at Kapco Global?

Employee Engagement: How it Affects Businesses – Infographic

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