With customer expectations soaring, many business are facing turbulent times. Oscar Munoz believes success hinges on the ability to personalize the customer experience. Oscar is CEO of United, one of the world’s largest airlines. Prior to 2015, Oscar’s resume included CSX, AT&T, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo — and rankings on the “100 Most Influential Hispanics” list twice over.
We spoke with Oscar for his thoughts on customer experience strategies, tech-fueled business evolutions, and piloting change in what some call the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Q: The pace of technology change isn’t slowing down anytime soon. From the advent of smartphones to the surge in artificial intelligence and other smart technologies, these shifts are rewriting the definition of “customer experience.” A new Salesforce Research study on customer expectations shows that a majority of customers say their standard for good customer experiences is higher than ever. But about half say that most companies fall short of their expectations. In your time as United CEO, how have you seen customer expectations changing?
Modern technology has put individual people and their unique preferences in the driver’s seat. Today, people expect their music to be tailored to their taste via apps. We want our rideshare to know exactly when, where, and how we like to make certain commutes, even what radio station should be on when we’re picked up.
It’s all about personalization — and when it comes to technology, United wants to lead the airline industry in exceeding customer expectations. We are constantly iterating the United app in order to customize your experience. Our new “Better Boarding” program, a reinvention of the boarding processes of the past, enhances one-to-one communication so a customer gets a push notification on their mobile device regarding boarding times so they don’t have to wait in the gate area, instead having time to enjoy in the restaurants and lounges. Customers should be in charge of their flying experience, all from the palms of their hands.
Q: Recently, in an ASCI survey, customer satisfaction with airlines scored a 73 out of 100 — which was the same rating the USPS, health insurance, and telecomm companies also received. Salesforce data suggests that 57% of consumers have switched brands because the competition has provided a better customer experience. In such an service-heavy, experiential industry, how are you and United looking to deliver exceptional customer experiences? Do you see customer experience as a core driver of competitive advantage at United?
We are only as good as your previous flight with us.
There is intense competition for a customer’s business, so we need to go above and beyond in order to exceed your expectations and win your loyalty. That means delivering customer-facing tools to put you in greater control and flexibility of your travel.
It also means giving the United team that serves you the tools they need to deliver the best experience and solve problems in the moment. Again, it all comes down to personalization of the experience in order to differentiate United and keep you flying with us.
For example, we launched an innovation which allows for flight attendants to see the full cabin via their mobile device. This gives them insights onboard such as status level for MileagePlus members, pets in cabin, and wheelchairs. With a single view of the customer key milestones like birthdays and MileagePlus anniversaries, customers are recognized. Flight attendants can see how your last five flights have been and personalize their customer service based on data they’ve shared with us.
We’ve put in-the-moment care in the hands of flight attendants to address customer issues in real time and compensate customers — who are then able to see compensation like miles added to their accounts within seconds.
Q: Customers don’t care about internal company organization. They expect a seamless, consistent experience at every turn. So, with the size and scale of a company like United, how do you ensure that employees across the company are in lockstep to deliver customer experience that exceeds expectations?
Aligning all 90,000 United employees — including every aspect of our operation, from the frontline to sales to marketing to business operations — and getting everyone flying together has been my goal. When there are hundreds of flights in the air at any moment, serving tens of thousands of customers, we need every United teammate working from the same playbook and set of values every time. That requires constant communication, but not micromanaging.
That’s why we implemented what we call our “Core 4” principles: safe, caring, dependable, and efficient.
With those simple concepts, we can communicate volumes to each employee about how they should go about solving issues and serving customers.
Instead of highly specific rules and directions, we’ve sought to communicate broad values and priorities to help our employees do the right thing for our customer. It’s all about putting the customer at the center of everything we do — in order to relay to tens of thousands of people working around the clock and around the world what is expected and how they can articulate their own way of living up to those expectations.
This article is part of our CEO interview series. For more executive perspectives on the future of business in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, check out: