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This past week, United Airlines announced they are purchasing more than 6,000 iPhones for hub-based customer service staff members. Despite being a relatively small number of iDevices purchased for such a large organization, this marks a noticeable shift in the tone of customer service for the airline that’s been plagued with negative press recently. But why iPhones, and why now?

New McKinsey Study Released

A new McKinsey study was released in October that highlighted the need for engagement with customers as a key tenant for acquisition and re-acquisition (a converted customer converting with the same company again versus going to a competitor). In lay terms, brands need to bond with customers. This key shift in the perception of customer actually brings customer service and marketing into the same bucket. If I was CEO of a major US corporation, I’d be thinking long and hard about having the CMO lead the Customer Service department.

My guess is that United Airlines CEO Oscar Muñoz had some down time while recovering and probably brushed up on his McKinsey studies. A little known fact is that I work directly with major multi-national brands like Visa, WellsFargo, Lloy’ds of London, Adidas, and more to understand how their customers act, make decisions, and bond with their brands. The McKinsey study is always overlaid with any work we do, and the key takeaway is always to know your customers better.

Today’s customers are mobile. As of midway through 2015, more than half of all Internet users are mobile, and that number is going to continually increase. United didn’t buy iPhones because they wanted to, they bought them because they needed to.

How To Really KNOW Customers

teckst-customer-day-in-the-lifeStudies are great, but ethnographic research is better. When was the last time you stepped out of the building and actually spoke with a customer? When I was Creative Director at Seamless, I was frequently asked to assign my team a survey email. The idea was to blanket 50,000 current customers in hopes of gathering 50 mindless responses. Of course, we’d make the email, but then we’d go outside and talk to people. It’s New York City. Millions of Seamless orders are placed daily here, so finding customers wasn’t hard. We’d talk to people and ask them what they liked about the service, what they didn’t like, where they ordered, what they wish we could do, and what they wish we’d do less of.

It was critical information, but what we found was our feedback began to get stale. It wasn’t until we realized we needed to ask customers about their entire life, not just their food ordering habits, that we understood how to really bond with them. We learned that Seamless customers liked Arrested Development, Girls, and soccer. It wasn’t a coincidence that later that year we launched a Banana Stand on the website, partnered with HBO for the premier of Girls, and launched a partnership with the Premier League.

These partnerships and promotions directly spoke to our customers, customers like them, and others with similar affinities. We acquired massive amounts of customers, increased satisfaction with current customers, and managed to actually spend almost no money. What was the magic formula? We created personas frequently, and we even filled out some of these with the same customers we were surveying on the street. (note: a “Day in the Life” worksheet we use here at Teckst is available here).

So why iPhones?

More customers are on iPhones than Samsung Devices, and iPhones have better resale value. As CEO of Teckst, I have to think about things such as depreciation on hardware for our teams in New York and San Francisco. As CEO of United, Mr. Muñoz has a much larger depreciation cost than we do here at Teckst. It’s a simple financial decision. Plus, the airline has hubs in some of the most tech-forward cities, where customers tend to have iPhones.

Next Steps for United Airlines

So now United has their sights set on better customer experience and they have a customer-centric platform (mobile devices throughout their hubs), but what’s next? Engagement is the key to increasing loyalty and bonding, and the best way to engage on a mobile device is text messaging. Teckst is going to change the landscape in 2016. Working directly with customer service teams at companies like United, Teckst can open up text messaging with customers in a quick, two-way dialogue that replaces lengthy, NPS-killing phone calls. Nothing is worse than seeing a United agent on an iPhone, asking them for help, and being handed said iPhone to call a 1-800 number. Teckst can even enable flight notifications to be replied to. Our patent-pending technology is perfect for United, and can help keep the momentum flying high.


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