Don‘t you just love Kevin Robert’s review of his American Airlines experience?  It takes me back to a similar, though far less protracted, experience I had on a flight from London to LA when I was diverted to Sacramento because of a storm. 

Because the airport was closed for the night (!) I spent four hours sitting on the tarmac with two-hundred flatulent Americans in an aluminium tube with no refreshments and no working toilets while they searched for a truck with an integral generator that they “knew they had somewhere”, which they needed to start the plane up again.  It turns out someone from maintenance had used it to take himself home at the end of his shift!

However, what this is really about is the commitment of employees to their role in delivering the promise … or not, as the case may be.  Failure to deliver is the single most damaging omission an organisation can make and getting it right is a simple matter of communication.  Communicating a promise that is realistic and then communicating to the people who are going to make it happen so they know what they have to do.  So what is AA’s promise?  Well, as far as I can see they don’t really have one.  Their strap line is “Why you fly” which is bollocks – I fly because I have to to get from A to B and frankly, the pain that air travel represents these days makes me increasingly doubtful of its worth.  AA’s web site says:

“American Airlines and American Eagle are in business to provide safe, dependable, and friendly air transportation to our customers, along with numerous related services. We are dedicated to making every flight you take with us something special …

Well they certainly scored on that one!  It goes on …

… Your safety, comfort, and convenience are our most important concerns. In June of this year American Airlines and other members of the Air Transport Association agreed to prepare and submit to the Department of Transportation (DOT) service plans addressing particular issues of consumer interest. American Airlines and American Eagle submitted their joint Customer Service Plan to the DOT on September 15, 1999″.

1999? – they are on to it then!  There’s more …

“We are constantly reevaluating our customer service goals, and we intend to update this Customer Service Plan when appropriate”.

Obviously they haven’t seen any reason to “update” their customer service goals in the past eight years.

“Our goal is to be a service and product leader in the airline industry”.

As I said, its about the delivery not the promise.

I can visualise the executives at AA sitting around their boardroom crying over Kevin’s letter of complaint – not!   But if they were they’d probably be bemoaning the fact that their employees don’t support them in their efforts to deliver – well in my experience that’s usually the way it goes.  What these people don’t get is that if employees aren’t delivering, its management commitment that is in question not employees. Failure to communicate, failure to motivate, failure to develop a culture of community, that’s about management deficit.

As a consultant I see plenty of organisations like this, most of which see employing me as an opportunity to relinquish responsibility for the “management” of their business.  Its amazing that the country responsible for AA is also the home of Southwest Airlines who wrote the book on internal marketing (which is what we are talking about) its called “Nuts”, well actually Kevin Freiberg wrote it about them. And they are still doing it.  On 15th November they announced their 125th consecutive quarterly share dividend!  Now if that doesn’t persuade you that internal marketing pays I guess nothing will!

Michael Weaver
December 11, 2007

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