United’s SVP of Customers on How to Elevate the Customer Experience

Sandra Pineau-Boddison, Senior Vice President Customers, United Airlines, discussed how organizations can transform an ordinary customer experience into an extraordinary one during her presentation to Argyle's Customer Care membership at the 2016 Customer Care Leadership Forum in Chicago on May 4. In her presentation, "United Airlines - Elevating the customer experience," Pineau-Boddison examined how United has redefined its business goals to improve its interactions with both customers and employees.

United recently embarked on a journey to revamp its operations, along with its customer experience. As such, the company has moved away from serving as a technology-centric business to become an operations-focused organization. And by doing so, the company has been able to make substantial improvements in a number of customer-centric areas of its day-to-day operations.

"We're talking about being an operations company," Pineau-Boddison said. "[We want to] take customers from Point A to Point B, making that a great experience. And there's a lot that goes into that."

However, delivering a quality customer experience takes hard work and effort, and United remains continuously focused on making gradual customer experience improvements.

"Our strategy really is to look at the entire experience and make it a smooth experience for our customers," Pineau-Boddison noted. "It's really about reliability across the network."

Creating a customer experience standard ensures a company can challenge its employees to deliver the best customer support possible. Furthermore, setting customer experience goals based on this standard, tracking customer feedback and ensuring clients are fully supported at all times can help a company differentiate itself based on its customer experience efforts.

"If you have to apologize for a policy before you tell a customer or an employee what the policy is, it's probably a good idea to look at the policy."

Pineau-Boddison also pointed out organizations must have a Plan B, particularly when clients need immediate support in a time-sensitive situation.

For example, Pineau-Boddison pointed out that United has recovery teams in place to assist travelers in the event of a flight delay or cancellation. These teams are able to set up hotel accommodations for travelers, provide them with food and, perhaps most importantly, maintain ongoing communications with them.

"We're communicating every step of the way," Pineau-Boddison said. "We don't like when [flight delays and cancellations happen]. They are very few and far in between, but we want to make sure we handle them well."

Meanwhile, technology plays a crucial role in the customer experience and can make it easier for organizations to leave a long-lasting impression with customers.

United is able to use social media and mobile apps to connect with clients and keep them informed with flight updates regularly. That way, this airline is able to take a proactive approach to address customer concerns and questions and ensure its clients are satisfied with the assistance they receive at any time.

The customer experience goes beyond the customer as well. In fact, Pineau-Boddison pointed out United prioritizes employee satisfaction as part of its efforts to enhance its customer experience levels.

"Our strategy really is to look at the entire experience and make it a smooth experience for our customers."

"We're really focused on our employees as well as our customers," Pineau-Boddison noted. "We're really listening to employees and customers. ... We're really making sure that when we handle situations, we handle them in the right way."

Performing employee polls and surveys may help a business discover innovative ways to improve the customer experience. Employees may be able to offer unique insights into various customer concerns and questions, and ultimately, empower a business with information it can use to bolster its relationships with both employees and customers.

Organizations should continue to target policy improvements as well.

In fact, implementing policies that empower employees to take a proactive approach to the customer experience can deliver significant benefits for a company, its employees and its customers.

"One area we look very closely at is the policies we have in place," Pineau-Boddison pointed out. "We say, 'Do we have a policy in place for our employees when they're handling a situation?' And if we do have one, do we need to modify it?"

Lastly, policies should remain flexible, as circumstances may change that dictate whether or not a policy supports an organization's employees and customers.

In many cases, organizations may be able to determine a policy's effectiveness by monitoring and evaluating both employee and customer feedback. It also helps if an organization continues to maintain ongoing communication with its employees and customers, as this will enable an organization to receive regular feedback into its policies.

"If you have to apologize for a policy before you tell a customer or an employee what the policy is, it's probably a good idea to look at the policy," Pineau-Boddison noted. "That just breathes segregation of employees from company. There's not a lot of ownership there."

ABOUT SANDRA:

Sandra Pineau-Boddison is senior vice president of customers for United. In this role, she provides a unified customer experience focus with an emphasis on providing an industry leading, high-quality product with a commitment to premier customer service. She is responsible for the carrier’s customer experience, food services, clubs and customer contact center functions, where she oversees a team of approximately 7,000 employees working across the network and at headquarters.

Prior to her current position, Sandra was senior vice president of United Express for United, overseeing the company’s regional operation. Previously, Sandra has served as vice president of customer contact centers for United and vice president of food services at United. She also served as vice president of the food services division at Continental Airlines. Sandra joined Continental in 1990.

Sandra currently serves on the International Flight Services Association (IFSA) Foundation Board, and has been involved with the association for almost 12 years.

She received her master’s degree in finance from Long Beach State and her bachelor’s degree in marketing from Texas State University. In 2005, she received an honorary doctorate of food service from the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers, for exemplary service to the food service industry. She is married.