Wednesday, September 26, 2007

United: Struggling and failing

I flew back from London yesterday on United Airlines. I was excited to have them offer a cheap upgrade to me at check-in so that I was able to move into a business class seat. What a disappointment though!

No wonder they have so many empty seats in business and first that they can offer cheap upgrades -- on my plane, a 747, one of the lavatories in my section was out of order, the power outlet in my seat didn't work, the seat wouldn't stay upright (it kept tipping back), and my footrest wouldn't stay up at all!

Three things that the flight attendants (who are terrific) told me that makes me wonder whether or not I should continue flying on this airline at all:

1) When United flies a "codeshare" flight with its partners, like Lufthansa, as soon as the customers of that other airline find out they are on a United plane they immediately try to change flights and the ones who can't are very upset to be on a crappy plane

2) United doesn't do its own maintenance anymore and so the problems I experienced are "common" according to one flight attendant -- and they just don't get fixed when reported

3) According to one of the members of the flight crew, that old beat up broken down 747 is expected to continue to be one of United's primary workhorses on the London-SFO route for ANOTHER YEAR.

So I am shopping for a new airline. By the look of how empty its planes are, I'll be one of the last rats to abandon ship. Which brings me to another point. Doesn't United understand that by providing a terrible product they are destroying their brand and driving away their most loyal customers?

Hello United, anyone listening?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Conversations are not marketing

I have been enjoying reading James Cherkoff's blog Modern Marketing which I rushed over to after having met him here in London yesterday morning. He offers this great tidbit from The Conversation Group advisory member David Weinberger:
"Marketing has to change. It has to recognize that market conversations are now the best source of information about companies and their products and services. It has to recognize that those conversations are not themselves marketing — you and me talking about whether we like our new digital cameras is not you and me marketing to each another. Neither is our conversation a "marketing opportunity." But the temptation to see it as such is well nigh impossible for most marketers to resist."
You can just imagine somewhere right now there is a marketing department person in some company going around to the product development staff saying "I need 4 blog posts a week from each of you. Go out and pump our product in the blogosphere." The temptation is real -- we in the industry keep saying that getting engaged in the conversation is important, and that the people who should do it are the real people in the business. But it must not be forgotten that this is only a useful activity if it is authentic -- if it is done because the person really wants to participate in the market and has something to add that the market will appreciate as valuable. Just flogging a product is a waste of everyone's time.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Conversing with Airlines

Following up on my post yesterday about conversing with companies, I realized that I have a lot to say to airlines. I just took United's online survey and was very disappointed by the experience. I appreciate that there are specific quality metrics that United is interested in measuring and that they think the only cost effective way to do so is through statistical analysis, but this is VERY dissatisfying as a customer. I have specific feedback and I want to have a conversation with them!

And as a customer, I should be important to them. I am working on my second million miles on their airline and I also frequently fly on their competitors airplanes. So I am an experienced consumer of their product. Given my current projects, I will easily spend $20,000 on airplane tickets next year including domestic and international travel. So why wouldn't they want to know what I have to say?

Furthermore, there has to be the reward of talking to them that comes from (a) feeling like I am being listened to; and (b) that there is some accountability -- someone will do something about the issues I raise. The "reward" for filling out their survey was entry into some ridiculous contest that no one ever wins. That is not a reward, that is an insult.

There are a lot of things I like about United, but I have a few complaints. They would be a better company if the figured out how to converse with their customers and they would win me over as a greater advocate for them. This is a good example of how companies could be engaging in conversational media as an alternative to traditional advertising.

Hello United, anyone listening?