Empowering Employees Drives Impactful Customer Experience

The United Airlines website states:

The United Airlines website states:

We need to have a product we are proud of and employees who like coming to work every day.

Our goal is to make every flight a positive experience for our customers.

While commendable United recognize both employees and customers in their objectives, clearly both objectives were violated in the recent debacle at O’Hare Airport where a doctor was injured as he was dragged off the plane screaming.

Employees at United can’t be proud to come to work for the next several months as the company objectives were violated and their years of work were wiped out by one thoughtless incident driven by metrics.

Customers can’t help but wonder how they will be treated by the airline. This, despite the fact that this is an isolated incident that has happened to one passenger among the tens of millions carried over the last year.

The entire issue could have been avoided if the gate agent had authority and empowerment to:

  • Increase the denied boarding compensation being offered passengers until four more passengers agreed to get off. Understanding the rate went up to some odd thousand, surely someone would volunteer if the compensation continued to raise.


  • Deny boarding to the employees who were trying to get to another city to operate a flight.

We assume the gate agents were acting with good intent. If that’s true, then United, by not giving them power to exercise these options let the agents down in a major way.

However, if United judges gate agents by the metrics of on time departure, accommodating employees trying to get to work and minimizing expenses then the agents were successful.

In our work with successful organizations, we sometimes see unintentional consequences of metrics winning out over values. Classic cases occur when salespeople are driven by quota and pressured to make sales even when they know the product or service is not right for the customer. This is especially ironic when the company website says, “we love our customers” or “we put customers first.”

So what steps can you take to avoid the United embarrassment in your company?

  • Use Authentic Curiosity to engage your employees. Ask them how the company enables them to “live” the company values and when they are challenged.
  • Have each team leader ask the team what steps can be taken to make it easier to abide by those values.
  • Provide a method for employees to report when they were challenged to live the values. It must be a method where it is clear there is no recrimination, but simply data to troubleshoot similar issues.

To learn more, feel free to reach out to me directly at engage@profitableengagements.com or learn more at www.profitableengagements.com.