Saturday, May 04, 2013

United takes a big step forward for Customer Service

This past week we had the honor to attend United Airlines annual Operations and Cargo Leadership Conference in Chicago, where over 600 airport Station Managers gathered for three days of varying sessions encompassing the topic of service.  Service Managers came from all around the world and country, from Oahu to Amsterdam, and everywhere in between. Their adopting mission this year is to improve the customer experience around the world. 

The company has settled into the recent merge well, staff from both United and Continental Airlines reporting that the collaborating efforts were going way better than expected.  Still overcoming some curves and glitches, as to be expected, but as a whole the company genuinely wants to come out on top and the great strides its top tier has been making don't go unnoticed.

Our presence at this conference was with the Accessible Travel Advisory Board (ATAB).  The 15 members have had great input since our board's inception in 2008 (then with Continental), and we love being a part of this "family." Assisting with accessibility in all aspects of the company from check-in to in-flight, from "below-the-wing" (baggage, maintenance, and beyond) to website and mobile apps, our board has learned more about the airline industry than we ever dreamed we could.

Taking a big step forward from our smaller meetings, United asked our group to join this conference and speak as a panel to the attendees - yes all 600 of them!  On stage, under bright lights, each of us were to answer their one burning question: "How can United best serve you?" We each had 3 minutes to describe the best travel day possible, and when it was all said and done, the feedback we received was that our 40 minute segment was the best of the conference.
We were impressed immediately by the obvious dedication to their improvement; on the notepad and notebook that was in all packets for the conference was written the following mission, as one of four service missions: "Serving customers with disabilities - understand accessibility.  Our mission is to treat every customer with empathy, dignity, and respect. The diverse range of disabilities drives diverse needs. As a leader, you will increase the awareness of these needs in your co-workers, vendors, and airport community."  We trust that with 600 worldwide station managers receiving this mission, the results will trickle out quickly.

In our debriefing session that followed, we heard from several departments as usual, all of which continue to make great strides in accessibility improvements across the board.

For starters, their internal ATAB meets monthly, and has made changes to many internal formats, resources, manuals, and trainings.

The changes have already started to take hold. All of our board members had received the on board briefing for example, of which we historically get 0-10% of the time.

Among one of the more exciting developments was that United's top tech team followed and filmed the online experience from start to finish of our board members who is blind in order to best improve the web and mobile app accessibility of the entire experience - which is among the hardest customer experiences to perfect.  Pat reported that most had never seen a blind person operate an iPhone, and that they'd be doing additional filming in Chicago and overseas as well. 

With the board's approval, Pat recommended that United adopt a full Web Accessibility Policy such that Alaska Airlines, IBM, and even the State of Texas have already adopted.  Putting their mobile strategy first shows that this company is looking forward to the future.

Many other changes are trickling down as we type, from Real Time Technology for better vendor (wheelchair pushers) and airline communication, to a new required form for emotional support animals - bringing United up to speed with other airlines who have been confirming these animals' validity by calling the doctor's who "prescribe" them, thus cutting down on the viral abuse of this privilege. 

One last thing that the board has been hitting the airlines hard on since our inception is to have SSR (Special Service Request) codes improved with more detail so the gate agents know exactly what disability to expect - and thus plan for - when a request comes through. 

Hopefully with all these changes, and future changes to come, you will all come to find that United is a better airline to fly - if not the best - for people with disabilities and special needs.

We are still waiting on videos and photos from this conferences, but as soon as we get them, we'll post them here.

Happy traveling -

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