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Thursday, 11 November 2010

Put on a happy face - or lose your brownie points

Yesterday I had a bit of a nightmare journey from Newark to Heathrow.

The reason was that whoever sold me my usual cheapo flight told me I was on United when I wasn't.

When I arrived at the airport the girl at the United counter said, "No, you're on Continental" and sent me to their counter.

The reason for this, by the way, is that United and Continental are merging. But anyhow, off I scurried to the Continental counter where an unsmiling lady told me I was in the wrong place . "This is the domestic counter."

I am exceptionally good at panicking on these occasions and said, "Will I miss my flight?"

Unsmiling again, she didn't answer my question, just saying, "I can check you in here, then you must go to terminal C on the Air Train."

"Thank you," I replied. "I'm really grateful."

She simply checked me in, once again without a hint of a smile, after which I thanked her once more and scurried off.

Essentially what she did was make me feel like a piece of garbage when I could have been feeling relieved and good.

What a shame - and how stupid. I really appreciated what she did - but she treated me like shit.

I wager that all the people in the head offices of these airlines talk a ton of drivel about being customer focused. There is even a video from the CEO which talks about the merger in the usual boastful way. But I have even greater certainty that none of them try being customers.

Talk is cheap. Training is a better idea.

Airlines all use pretty much the same planes, take the same time to get from A to B, show the same films, feed you as cheaply as they can and so on -- the chief difference is in how welcome they make you feel

On Virgin and BA they smile a lot more than on any of the U.S. airlines. They also have more seats full across the Atlantic. This is not a coincidence. It is a basic business equation.

Most mergers do not create value. They must be managed with great care.

United and Continental have a very brief period in which to get things right. Their staff - who have been having a bad time for years and probably retain little if any faith in management - are saying to themselves, "What are these bozos in head office going to do to get things right?"

Well, if they can't even tell people to smile at customers when they're actually doing a really good job, what hope do they have?

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