Honesty and transparency. From a customer’s point of view, these two words are essential for a great experience from original research, to purchase to consumption. We want what we think we are buying and are delighted when we get more. Some brands like Best Buy, Intuit and Southwest Airlines for example, adopted customer centric business practices, and use social media tools and online communities to engage their customers and employees and act on insights learned.

If honesty and transparency isn’t part of your brand experience, you flirt with an onslaught of negative conversations and shared horror stories. One blog post, one tweet, one well placed bad review and you could be in for a bumpy ride

As consumers, we are desensitized to fine print and hidden fees because we deal with them on a daily basis. When a positive experience comes along we are delighted, and we readily share the information with our friends, family and anyone else that will listen. But a bad experience yields a big public ouch as we share our frustrations, anger and gory details with all who will listen: both on-and-offline.

So you know what’s coming: my horror story, which involves American Airlines and my quest to return to Denver from the WOMMA conference in Miami.

I usually fly Frontier of which I am a huge fan. Since they had no flights to Miami, I flew American. My return experience was THE single worst EVER. I arrived two hours early, made it through the airport rigmarole and found a place to eat dinner by my gate. For the entire two hours the monitor said FLIGHT ON TIME. Went to board, but was stopped by a cranky employee. She informed me of a gate change (which was a two hour walk), oh and your flight is also delayed. No other information was offered. I started my trek and came across an updated monitor. Two hours late!

Found an AA customer service center (which is an oxymoron) to get the scoop on the delay. Major weather in Dallas, the plane can’t depart from there yet. OK, bad weather — can’t control that. How about the United flight that leaves in 30 minutes? You’ll never make it on time; it’ll take you an hour just to get there. This is your best option. Hmmm. Wonder why the monitor said ON TIME for the last two hours, when the plane hadn’t left the ground? Simple. This way we had no other options to get back home. While I waited my tweets summed up my mood and opinion on American. Five hours later we FINALLY boarded. Overhead, under seat, buckle up. Let’s go! Here’s your Captain speaking….sorry for the long delay we have been waiting on the arrival of a part. Back up. Did he just say the arrival of a part? Really?

Back home, my research uncovered that I wasn’t alone. Blog after blog mirrored the same sentiment and experience I had. American Airlines created a work-around for some of their fine print. Their policy states that if the reason for a flight delay is beyond their control, they do not account to the customer. So in order to avoid any responsibility, they have a constant fall back: fictitious, bad weather in Dallas!

Many of the blog posts I read spoke of the same thing. The “bad weather in Dallas” ruse is used for different reasons such as waiting for a pilot, or the arrival of a fax. The list goes on. Am I missing something? How can this happen in the age of transparency? Doesn’t American know about the weather channel? Anyone can—and does—check that weather in Dallas, often finding sunshine, no wind, no turbulence. When asked about the low score the airline earned on the Customer Satisfaction Index, American’s managing director of customer experience stated “I can’t account for the …Index, but I can tell you that American’s internal customer satisfaction surveys…..show marked improvements from a year ago.” He reiterates the bad weather accountability point three times, and talks about being transparent to the customer. Click here to read the interview in full. My guess is that he doesn’t use the internet. His perception is not reality.

American Airlines is not doing well financially. Big surprise! This airline is analogous to the dinosaur; they are failing to evolve with changing conditions. Word-of-mouth in a digital world is fast and furious. Consumers are empowered with knowledge and platforms that they didn’t have before. Yet, we are still riddled with big corporations resistant to change. American Airlines and others alike, I leave you with a single message. If you don’t change your business practices soon, you’ll suffer the same fate as the mighty T-Rex. Evolve or be left behind.

Jennifer Voisard

Jennifer Voisard

Senior Consultant

Jenny is a digital content strategist, who leads customer-centric engagements that focus on understanding B2B buying behaviors and developing custom roadmaps.

Her expertise is creating buyer personas and mapping digital content journeys to assess the multi-channel user experience. She helps clients operationalize plans across workstreams and identifies processes to create efficiencies in marketing operations. Jenny also has extensive time under her belt developing and managing customer advocacy programs and community building.

She has helped a diverse group of organizations including Cisco, VMware, Verizon, Microsoft, Dell, BMO Harris, Capital One and many others become more customer-centric.