Is Civility in Marketing on its Way Out?

You have to wonder what some of these people are thinking—or if they are thinking at all! Consider the following from United Airlines:

Beginning November 12, our Premier Executive members and Star Alliance Gold guests will board before Seating Area 1 customers through the Economy Lane.

The new boarding order will be as follows: Global Services, 1K and customers sitting in United First will continue to board first through the Red Carpet Lane, followed by our United Business customers. Our Premier Executive and Star Alliance Gold members will then be invited to board.

After all of our most-valued guests are on board and getting settled, the regular boarding process of seating areas 1 through 4 will begin.

We strive to consistently reward you, our premium customers, for your loyalty. We hope that as a Premier Executive and Star Alliance Gold customer, you enjoy this added benefit

Now, I don't care what order they use to fill the plane—though for some reason back-to-front with accommodation for those with special needs or small children seems strangely logical—but it does seem to me that denigrating a large portion of your customer base by identifying, however honestly, a smaller contingent of “most-valued” customers, is a pretty bad move. Let's face it, these things tend not to stay on the reservation and once they are out, they stay out.

By favoring some customers more than others—I am not talking about nice club amenities but rather obvious distinctions being made at the gate—all you really accomplish is the raising up of a few in full view of the rest, and the rest is not going to be happy about it. If United's goal is to keep their various levels of business and high-end travelers at the expense of their coach trade, then they are doing a great job. There are plenty of other airlines to choose from, enough so that flying United is quite optional.

But then, that is the way it is in business, isn't it? You can always go across the street, or order what you want online or over the phone. Just like United's least-valued guests, you have options. Imagine the last time you were in a shop, being ignored while those running the shop busily catered to another customer. How did it make you feel? Did you return to that shop again? Personally, once I am treated badly by a business, I never go back.

The Bottom Line

In bad economic times and good, the one area where a business can really outshine its competition is in customer service. It is repeated so often that it is almost a cliché now, but if you want to compete and grow, you give each and every customer the red-carpet treatment. John Tisch, Chairman and CEO of the Loews Hotel chain understood this so well that he entitled his latest book, Chocolates on the Pillow Aren't Enough. In it, he writes that, “the leaders of the organization must learn to examine the customer experience as a totality, understanding the importance of every touch point, empathizing with what clients need and want at each one, and then designing the organizational structure to provide it.” It means that the business has to become consumer centric in its outlook, an acknowledgment that it is the consumer that permits the business to exist in the first place. United has failed to learn that lesson. Don't you do the same.