United’s CEO, Customers, and Who’s Your Most Important Audience?

October 5, 2015 | Author: Bill Kirkos

Happy Customer Experience Day

Typically when I am giving a big speech externally or here inside Honeywell Aerospace, I open up with a simple question and poll: who do you think is Honeywell’s single most important audience to influence?

Now before I go on, feel free to vote in the comments section.

While I get these are not actually real customer audiences or personas that we sell to, it’s still an interesting question. I typically list the following:

Financial Analysts/Wall Street
Social Media/Bloggers

The question is always fascinating as there really aren’t any wrong answers, and indeed the answers I get are typically all over the place.

Financial analysts are critical – they influence the stock price.  Customers buy and compliment/criticize our stuff. Journalists and bloggers can make or break a stock with one single review or article. And of course, employees make our products and interface with customers.

I do have a strong opinion, however.  It’s our employees.  A more engaged and productive employee will naturally serve customers better. Our customers will buy more products, and that should increase the stock price.  More engaged employees become great social brand ambassadors, and observant reporters can always gauge the health of a company’s culture and workforce. In short, employees can either help or hurt short-term sales, the experiences customers have with us, and our brand reputation.

It’s with this backdrop that I found the actions of United Airlines and their new CEO in this NY Times story and others extremely rare -- and highly admirable.  Imagine a CMO or PR VP telling its CEO – or even better a CEO debating this him/herself, “we need to publicly apologize about how poor our customer experience is in a massive way, and even buy some ads about it.”

Sounds kind of crazy. 

But in United’s case – managing abrupt executive level changes, dealing with a challenging acquisition integration, seeing a lower-performing stock than peers and addressing mixed airline performance metrics…it’s a brilliant, gutsy and humble call.

And what better message to send to employees and customers than we’re going to take intelligent risks, like publicly apologizing and promising better results. And we’re going to do it with humility and in a manner where the CEO is acknowledging and owning problems and very publicly promising change and improvement.

Obviously, United is a big customer of ours, and we don’t always provide the ultimate customer experiences either with our airline customers (we all live in glass houses as they say).  And I’ve never met Oscar Munoz. But if you read the news coverage on this, he and I share a simple belief that goes back to my opinion above: you’ve got to start with employees if you want to improve the customer experience and grow.

Mr. Munoz said it even better in the Times article:

"(The CEO) emphasized that the way to improve customer service was to fix employee relations first… ‘Our investment, our focus, our adulation is going to be focused on these people.’"


Bill Kircos

Bill Kircos

As Vice President of Global Communications for Honeywell’s $12 billion Aerospace division, Bill Kircos oversees the public relations, employee communications, corporate citizenship and a variety of marketing communications areas such as advertising, social media, web, events, video broadcasting and other areas. Kircos joined Honeywell from Intel Corporation, holding several positions in public relations, sales and marketing positions in sixteen years with the company. He was most recently General Manager of marketing for the company's Tablet and Netbook PC Group. Prior to joining Intel, Kircos worked for the Governor and state of Arizona as an appointed Communications Officer. Preceding this position, he worked at two leading public relations agencies based in Phoenix. A graduate of the University of Arizona (Bear Down!), Kircos is also a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan and dad of two young boys who are already smarter than he is.

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