Terrific Customer Service from United

I have flown and written about United Airlines before. The experience was so-so. I didn’t really enjoy it and it didn’t really stand out as bad, either. However, courtesy of Maria from CustomersAreAlways, I was made aware of a particular United Airlines pilot that goes way above and beyond the call of duty. He was written about in a great Wall Street Journal article.

The particular pilot is Capt. Denny Flanagan and he should be running customer service for United. And how does he go above and beyond? By doing a lot of little things that are totally unexpected from pilots. A few of them are below:

  • He takes pictures of pets in cargo with his camera phone to assure their owners that the pets are safe and are on board. As a pet owner and someone who has traveled with pets (never in the cargo, though), I would find this tremendously comforting.
  • He writes notes to first class and other “VIP” passengers thanking them for their business. The notes aren’t generic – he addresses the passengers by name and writes them on his business cards.
  • If a flight is delayed or diverted, he will look for a McDonald’s and order 200 hamburgers. Or, he’ll find some other place that can provide food for the passengers.
  • When unaccompanied minors travel on his flights, he will call the parents and let them know that things went okay.
  • If a passenger has an issue, he will often get on the phone and handle it personally instead of just referring them to customer service or a ticket agent.
  • He holds little contests, giveaways, etc. during his flights.
  • He gets feedback from passengers and posts the notes in crew rooms or sends them off to get issues resolved.

United is smart, though. They give Denny the resources he needs to keep being a great customer service person. They pay for all of the things he gives away (books, wine, and discount coupons), his extra business cards (700 a month!), and for the food he buys if flights are delayed or diverted. I feel they are taking the right approach.

My question is: why doesn’t United standardize some of this? Not all of the pilots have to go to Denny’s level of amazing customer service, but the airline can definitely standardize the process of buying food if a flight is delayed, giving away extra items, and encouraging feedback. Some of the initiates are costly, but I am sure there are ways that United can follow Flanagan’s lead.

I think it is clear that Denny is almost entirely responsible for the superior customer service he provides. It shows what type of work ethic he has and how he is dedicated to helping the passengers. You want to find guys like Denny to work in your customer service department. Every now and then, they will come along by themselves, but you want to actively seek out people like that.

If a pilot did any one of those things for me, I would be thoroughly impressed. If all of them happened, I think I would have to poke myself to see if I was dreaming. This sort of customer service simply doesn’t happen very often.