What’s left to be said at this point about United Airlines’ horrific passenger “re-accommodating” situation from last week? Putting aside the company’s misguided thinking about everything from customer service to crisis communications, there may be an even bigger issue lurking beneath the surface: Any company, not just United, can get into trouble when it prioritizes procedure over customer-first thinking.
A great explanation of this phenomenon comes from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in his yearly letter to shareholders. As Bezos notes, good companies don’t get overly focused on “process” at the expense of customers.
“Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process…becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right.”
Related to this, a focus on “process” can be intertwined with a corporate habit of letting the existing technology dictate what happens to customers.
Technology can do great things for the travel industry. As we’ve already highlighted in this very column, technology is often the travel industry’s solution to every potential problem. And in many respects, technology has allowed the airline industry to make great strides in efficiency and lower prices.
But the hidden danger to this approach is that when things go wrong, technology is often the main point of failure.
In fact, taken to its logical extreme, technology is helping airline executives justify some seriously bad decision-making that dehumanizes the very airline passengers it was originally meant to serve. As Rohit Talwar notes:
“This represents a massive red flag for organisational digital change programs and those pursuing “employee” light AI-first automation strategies. The risk is that we create hollowed out businesses that are too rigid and incapable of responding to both predictable variations and truly unforeseen challenges.”
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