Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Employees treat customers the same way they're treated.

Post 350 - I have lifetime Platinum status on American Airlines having flown over 3,000,000 miles with the company. In the past five years, it appears that many of the flight attendants I come across are frustrated and don't have a prideful sense of themselves or their company. “The flight attendants have sacrificed a 33% cut in pay, benefits and work rules since 2003 after labor saved this company from bankruptcy," according to Laura Glading, the recently elected president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. "Flight attendants are often forced to bear the costly brunt of management's mistakes.” It’s reported that after these changes were accepted and approved by the employees, American filed a delayed SEC document disclosing that the company funded a supplemental pension trust for its top 45 executives. The Wall Street Journal reported that it also protected a portion of their retirement income in the event of a bankruptcy filing. The filing also said senior executives were earlier offered very sizable retention bonuses. Not surprisingly, the flight attendants still remember this.

The union today complains that the airline's crew members are the only work group in the company at risk of losing pay as a result of new aircraft grounding rules promulgated by the FAA. Earlier this year, ALPA was in a bitter dispute with management regarding requirements that flight attendants use vacation days to recoup lost pay when AA's MD80 fleet was grounded. On October 1st, American cut 921 flight attendant jobs as part of a strategy to deal with an ongoing downturn in traffic resulting in lower revenue. Of these, 244 employees were placed on "involuntary overage leave" which means they won't work in October and November, when air traffic is expected to be very weak, but will return to work in December. While off the job for two months, those employees have to pay for their own health insurance although they can get it at American's lower group rate, according to the airline.

Passengers complain that the flight crews need a friendly reminder that the customers are the only reason that they have their jobs! But if you treat your people badly and they aren't happy as a result, why would they bother about making the customers happy?

Meanwhile at American, a Customer Experience Leadership Team (CELT) meets weekly to talk about AA's on-going efforts to improve the customer experience. CELT includes AA leaders from all major work groups who champion and support employee-led customer experience efforts and ideas across the company.

Experience shows that internally focused companies are always the first to fail. So it’s interesting to note that there are no AA customers included on the CELT team. I’ve got to believe that including them and their feedback would help AA become a more customer responsive airline. I hope this group stops focusing on the small "delighters" and gets focused on eliminating the "dissatisfiers" instead. Their customers, especially frequent fliers like myself, could certainly tell them what many of these are as well as suggesting ways to remedy them.

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