What are Your UICs? Lessons from American & United Airlines Customer Experience Debacles

I call them UICs (unique industry challenges) and I see them as foundational issues that must be overcome to deliver outstanding customer experiences. Recently, high profile incidents at American Airlines (a confrontation between a flight attendant and a mother with two children as well as another passenger overheard the flight attendant’s behavior concerning the mother’s stroller) and United (the forcible and injurious removal of a passenger on an overbooked flight) highlight several major UICs facing airlines. Here are a few examples:

  • Frequent interactions that involve saying “no” to customers. Few businesses have as many rules (no strollers, “No you can’t get up and go to the bathroom yet”, “Turn off your cell phone”, “Stop playing your music without headphones”, “No your bag is too large to go overhead.”)
  • Customers must yield control. Unlike walking, driving, or riding a bicycle – train, cab, boat, and airline passengers rely on others to get them to their destination safely and on time. For airline customers, that reliance occurs in a metal tube at 30,000 feet.
  • Customer alcohol use.  Long layovers, traveler anxiety, free alcohol in first class, alcohol coupons as a loyalty perk, and many other factors contribute to passengers whose judgment may be impaired.
  • High volumes of customers served. The popularity of air travel (particularly at peak periods) places heavy demands on airline personnel, stress on passengers, and crowded/close proximity interactions.
  • General reputational issues. Viral videos of negative interactions like those mentioned earlier, policies that favor carriers over passengers, increased governmental and safety restrictions accompanied by incremental charges and disrupted travel caused by a myriad of factors all serve as a backdrop for customer expectations and assessments.

By contrast, if you were to generate a list of UICs for supermarkets (a business arena which typically garners fairly high marks on assessments of customer experience) or other retailers for that matter, you’ll likely find a very different list. For example, challenges in this sector might include:

  • Congested or cluttered aisles/display
  • Limitations in product selection or out-of-stock items
  • Indifference on the part of staff
  • Confusing store layouts
  • Items not ringing up properly
  • Long check-out lines
  • Inept bagging

UICs are reflections of industry vulnerabilities and/or “pain points” inherent in a customer journey for a specific business sector. UICs are mitigated by excellent experience design (e.g. touch point mapping) which optimizes service delivery provided by people (culture/training), processes (operations and business optimization), and technology (automation, efficiencies, and self-service).

Both the gospels of Matthew (7:5) and Luke (6:42), share a story of Jesus talking about the hypocrisy of not seeing a plank in one’s own eye while clearly identifying a speck in the eye of a neighbor.

In an effort to circumvent the tendency to over examine the limitations in an industry over which you are not responsible (maybe airlines) and to assure that you are addressing the substantial concerns faced by your very own customers, let’s take a moment to define the top five UICs you need to address.

How do you prioritize which UICs are mission critical?

What human service, process, and technological interventions are you deploying to address the highest value & unique industry challenges?

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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