Three Weeks Ago, United CEO named Communicator of the Year: Seriously?​​​​​​​

Three Weeks Ago, United CEO named Communicator of the Year: Seriously?

On a daily basis we have the opportunity to come face-to-face with social grace, and we wonder, has social grace gone away, relegated to the fate of a United Airlines passenger? Perhaps it was mercury in retrograde, a full moon, or the angst of tax season, but the last two days showcase a few stories and events that illustrate our societal lack of humanity, decency, and plain old good manners. 

What’s going on?

When a passenger who was seated on a United Airlines flight was dragged off the plane—and bleeding—for refusing to volunteer his seat, United Continental Holdings CEO, Oscar Munoz Communicator of the Year lost the incredible opportunity to make things right. Instead of falling on his sword, Munoz, when interviewed, said, he had to “re-accommodate the passengers.” Hardly seems like communicator of the year-worthy.

The message? You the customer is not important. Our bottom line is all we care about. As of this writing, the tenuous bottom line of United Airlines stock has fallen nearly 5% and erased $675 million off their market cap.  


And this is just the beginning of a certain monetary and public relations fallout.

As frequent travelers of Southwest airlines, customer service is a priority. Many consider the airline as one of the most admired industries  and it’s hard not to notice the contrast between this leader in the sky and the United Airlines debacle.

Using the benefits of our business membership early yesterday morning, Geoff went to purchase a few things at Sam’s Club. Geoff approached the checkout with 7 items. A business member in the only open lane had a cart and a flatbed of about 50 items. Geoff looked at the checkout lane next to his; the light was not on, but another customer was in the midst of checking out with two items. He made eye contact with the cashier and asked, “Are you open?” She sighed, rolled her eyes, and grunted.  

After Geoff complimented her starfish necklace, she smiled what we call a “drive-thru smile” and her face returned to a snarl. The cashier scrutinized our business card and mumbled that the photo on the card was of Poppy, not of him. She left and ambled over to customer service. When she returned, she barked, “I’ll do it this time, but you need to get this fixed.” (We’d never had a problem in the past so if it was a new policy, we hadn’t been notified.)

Sometimes we shop together at Sam’s. Almost all of the employees know us. Geoff sings “Prince Ali” from Aladdin, to the man at checkout when Sam’s Club employee Ali waves his yellow highlighter over our receipt. He even hugs him. And one of our other favorite cashiers at Sam’s Club has gorgeous hair in braids that when we complimented her and asked how long it took, she smiled and said, 6 hours. 

We see every interchange with people an opportunity for graceful engagement. This is the mindset we have.

A common missed opportunity happens countless times a day. We’ve witnessed people on cellphones through the duration of a 45-minute pedicure, never once engaging with the person who is attending to their feet. In the grocery line, people acknowledge the cashier. And if on their mobile device, forget it. If you are on the phone and cannot return the call, please apologize to the cashier for your apparent rudeness.

At our Publix grocery store, we know 95% of the employees. We laugh at our bagger’s silly puns: (“Why did the strawberry say to the jelly while driving? We’re in a jam.”) We give gifts, only shop on days when one of our favorites is working, and even visited her when she was in rehab.

The Sam’s Club experience felt so wrong that we called the store manager and went to see him. We shared with him that our parents were friends of Sam Walton, we’d been long time Sam’s Club’s members, knew many of his employees. And we offered complimentary relationship expertise to help with more effective communication using our trademarked workplace program. He said, “We already have our own training program,” and told us he’d check with the regional HR. More concerned with the exact details of the botched customer service interchange, he asked us, “Was this your first time shopping at Sam’s?”

We explained again, that we’ve been customers for 14 years, and looked at one another and wondered why that question was relevant. If we were first time shoppers or long time customers, would that have changed something?

Call it fear or disempowered, but many of these “leaders” are not seeing the tremendous opportunity for powerful growth. It doesn’t begin with the bottom line. How you treat your customers is the bottom line.

What’s on your mind? Please share with us your customer service story: