In a passionate video message to employees, CEO Scott Kirby outlines his vision for making United Airlines world’s number one airline as it emerges from the pandemic. The focus is on customer service, with particular emphasis on transparency.
United Airlines CEO: We Are Going Become The World’s Number One Airline
The video, sent to all employees on Monday, was shared with Live and Let’s Fly.
Kirby begins by recounting how United handled what he calls the “worst weather event in our entire history” after below-average temperatures across much of the United Sates led to unprecedented flight disruptions earlier this month.
Despite the disruptions, United’s net promoter scores went up (on a year-to-year basis). Net promoter scores measure the willingness of customers to recommend a company’s products or services to others and are ascertained by post-flight surveys. Kirby credits this to the “culture change that has been happening and will continue to happen here at United to take care of our customers.”
Throughout his message, a recurring theme is United’s effort to get customers to like it.
“But it’s also the little things that are important that we continue to do to get our customers to like us. We started down this journey with core4 a couple of years ago when we talked about caring as our number two priority behind safety.
“And we’ve continued as we’ve gone through COVID, as we talk about innovating for the customer, putting the customer at the center of everything we do, getting our customers to like us. And it really is different and I can feel it. Our customers can feel it every day.”
Core4 represents United’s four core principles it unveiled in 2018 after the David Dao controversy:
How was this specifically put into place? Kirby notes proactively reaching out to customers and using ConnectionSaver to hold flights:
“During this weather event we actually managed to contact over 94% of our customers and give them the option before they needed to leave for the airport for flights that were going to be cancelled.
“We used the ConnectionSaver to be able to connect customers instead of having them sit in an airport and spend the night on cots in airports, which is what used to happen in these bad weather events. This event was totally different.
“Our ability to communicate transparently, open, and honestly with customers made what was a really bad event into something that led to the net promoter scores being up on a year-to-year basis, despite the impact of the weather.”
Technology is key to the advances United has made in recent years. Not only does it offer an industry-leading app which is far more functional than its competitors, but advances like Connection Saver, which will hold flights for late-arriving customers if it does not adversely impact others onboard, help to win long-term loyalty.
Kirby: Culture Is The “Secret Sauce”
What will make United Airlines number one? Per Kirby, it will be the culture:
“We have all the raw ingredients, the seven hubs that we have, our commitment to growing when this is all over. And the key secret sauce, the magic ingredient that’s going to propel us to the number one position is this culture with customers, and getting our customers to choose United Airlines.”
United is preparing to battle its low-cost competition and Kirby indicates it will respond aggressively:
“When this is over, a lot of our low-cost carrier competitors are gunning for United Airlines. They think this is the old United Airlines who would sit back and shrink after a crisis.”
Unlike his predecessors, United Airlines has not shied away from competition and is already planing to fight for market share and growth with the explicit goal of becoming the world’s number on airlines (note, he doesn’t say world’s largest airline):
“We’re the one airline that uniquely is planning to grow back at a hundred percent, including all of our widebodies. We are going to come back and win market share on the other side of this crisis and become the world’s number one airline.”
Kirby talks of honesty, transparency, and being open. This is refreshing. But will be it be put into practice?
“And this culture change about customers is going to be the key to our success. Because we need customers to choose us, not just because we have the best schedule, not just because we have the frequent flyer program, but even when everything is equal, even when the schedule, even when the price are equal, if you’re a customer in Denver, I want those customers knowing that United Airlines is the most open, the most honest, the most transparent, that cares the most for what they’re doing and those customers choosing United because they believe in us and they like United Airlines.”
As always, actions speak louder than words.
Kirby is saying all the right things. The secret sauce is indeed employee culture and transparency. Technology advances have made that much easier. Will United be able to take advantage of the pandemic to gain market share? It’s too early to tell, but foundational to achieving that goal will be be consistency. That means transparency on onboard cutbacks and MileagePlus devaluations as well.