Under-Promise, Over-Deliver, a Lesson from the Airlines

I keep meaning to post about this because it’s one of my biggest pet peeves (and if you knew me, you’d know that’s a pretty substantial list). Why don’t the airlines get the concept of “under-promise and over-deliver?” It’s a simple idea really. You make an agreement with your customers — and then, here’s the cool part — you not only keep it, but your exceed it! Wow!  What a cool idea!

Alas, the airlines don’t get it (and neither do many others).

Bad Service Poorly Delivered!

The back story

I had to fly back from L.A. a few weeks ago. I was supposed to leave LAX for SFO at 9:30 to arrive in SF at 10:40 and connect to my home town of Eureka at 12:00 or so. Shouldn’t be much of a problem. However — stop me if you’ve heard this — the airline was running late. There we are, about a 100 or so folks waiting to board the plane, but there’s one problem. There’s no plane, just an empty jetway.


Attendant behind the lectern comes on and says “We don’t know what’s up. We were informed that the plane left the hangar to be here about 10 minutes ago. It should be here any minute. As soon as it gets here, we’ll start boarding.”

9:40 — nothing

9:45 — nothing

9:50 — nothing (except passengers rustling nervously)

9:55 — Attendant, “We’ve received notification that the plane will be here within 5 minutes. We’ll start boarding then. Everyone will be able to make their connections.”

10:00 — nothing

10:05 — Plane rolls up to the jetway.

10:10 — Attendant, “We’ll start boarding in just a minute.”

10:15 — nothing

10:20 — Attendant, “Please start boarding my group number. We’ll be able to get everyone on board in 10 minutes and we should be able to take off by 10:30.” (Yeah, right…)

11:00 — Airplane lifts off, 90 minutes late. (I ran across the airport and made my connection.)

The lesson?

Wouldn’t it have made sense at the beginning for the attendant to say, “We’re running behind. We’ll give you updates as we can, but it might take 30 minutes or so?” Then, if it really only took the 10 minutes she said, everyone would be going, “Wow! That’s way neat! Congratulations!” Instead, there’s a great amount of rumbling and grumbling and unhappy folks.

If you’re sure you can deliver five widgets, promise three. If you fall short and deliver four, you look like a hero. But the other way, you look like a fool, and your customer is really unhappy with you. Remember, “perception is reality.”


~ by scottqmarcus on February 23, 2009.

2 Responses to “Under-Promise, Over-Deliver, a Lesson from the Airlines”

  1. Scott:

    A not uncommon tale. I was stranded by US Airways in Phoenix on a Friday night after missing my connection to SFO when a flight from Washington Dulles was delayed due to headwinds. The airline gave me a discount voucher for an airport hotel (actually it was 5 miles away, a block away from NSA HQ in Tempe). On the shuttle over there I was amazed to find other stranded passengers had been given free room. My discount was only a few dollars off the walk-in rate and the night’s stay cost me $75 in total. Next morning they explained that if it’s a ‘weather-related delay’ I pay, if it’s an equipment malfunction, they pay.

    It would have been nice if they’d have printed that explanation on the voucher.

  2. I had yet another instance of stupidity in customer service from the airlines. I was supposed to fly from SFO to my home airport. Plane was supposed to leave at 7:30 PM and arrive at 8:30. Weather was fine. The plane I was going to take was coming in to SFO from Medford but had mechanical problems so could not leave Medford until 10PM. It got to SFO at 11:00 or so. They boarded us but announced that my home airport was now fogged in so they were going to cancel the flight. We asked if we got a hotel or anything. They said “no,” it’s weather related. In reality, it was only weather related because the fog had just now come in. If they had taken off when they were supposed to, we would have been fine. And the reason we didn’t was due to mechanical problems in Medford. It’s all a big game. As I’ve said, if any other industry treated its customers with such disrespect, they’d be sooooo gone.

    Thanks for the post.

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