The importance of customer service in travel

By | Category: Travel rumblings

Oscar Munoz

About $500,000 of the annual bonus of CEO of United Airlines, Oscar Munoz, is payable as a result of customer satisfaction. What’s the betting that this may not be paid out after the debacle this week of forcibly removing a passenger from one of their flights this week?

How is that bonus calculated?

I don’t know the specifics but it is public knowledge that the role of customer surveys plays a part. Those surveys are the ones you and I complete when asked. The query what we think of the flight we were on, the service, the meals and the plane itself.

Most people working in travel be they on airlines, tour operators or cruise ships have a bonus and it is usual that it is linked to CSat or customer satisfaction surveys. How it is calculated probably varies company by company but it is usual to set a figure and bonuses are paid when that figure is reached or exceeded. Sometimes the figure is based on an improvement on what the score was last year so that customer satisfaction levels rise and staff are encouraged to perform better.

Many years ago – long before the time of Mr Munoz – I created a survey for United Airlines which was handed out (in those days it was only on paper; today it is likely to be electronic or a mixture of both) and that is why I know a little about the role of CSat in bonus payments.

The same applies in the UK and Ireland.  Both TUI and Thomas Cook plus all their subsidiaries use customer satisfaction measurement as part of their bonus schemes. I cannot speak for all companies but it is common that others such as British Airways, Kuoni, Virgin and Monarch do the same.

Obviously not everything depends on what you – the customer – says. In the case of Mr Munoz, the reactions of United Airlines in enforcing the removal of a passenger is going to have an effect as well. In this case it should be the overriding consideration as no person should be treated like this and Mr Munoz has promised it will not happen again. That he took over two days before apologising and tried to blame part of the incident on the passenger’s belligerency was appalling customer service. If that is the culture in United then the sooner it changes, the better. was this his attitude when he was responsible for customer service at a previous job? If this attitude exists in other companies I hope the CEO’s of those have heeded the message and will change their company’s approach.

The United incident is indicative of what customer service and satisfaction should not be under any circumstance.

The problem for us as passengers is what would have happened if other passengers did not have smart phones and could not post their images for us all to see? United would probably have got away with it. They still might. After a few more days of bad publicity will all return to whatever is “normal” at the airline? People can’t boycott the airline entirely because it is the only carrier on certain routes.

It must be able to shareholders and the non-executive directors of the company to make sure that the attitude to customer service changes.

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