When I present the 8 principles of a customer-centric organisation, I always start with the need for conviction. Your organisation must believe that ‘winning’ will only happen if you consistently focus on the needs, expectations and experiences of your target customers. If consistent customer focus is just something you’d like to do, or one of several competing priorities, then the other principles of customer centricity will never stick.

United Airlines have just made this point much easier to explain.

In case you’ve missed it, United overbooked a flight. Insufficient customers took the financial incentive to wait for a later flight, so they started picking passengers at random. When a paying customer refused to leave the flight, they were labelled as “disruptive and belligerent” and physically dragged off by staff. At least 2 other passengers filmed an experience that the customer will never forget.

Being customer-centric is strategic choice

Apparently United were within their rights to remove the passengers because the small print on the ticket says they reserve the right to overbook the plane and kick people off. The fact that this delivers a dreadful customer experience is not their concern. Policy and efficiency are their driving priorities, not customer experience.

That’s their choice of course, and that’s the point. United believe they will win through a low cost model, where customer experience is “good enough”. They’re probably right. In a market with limited alternatives, they will find enough customers who want the lowest fare and are prepared to risk getting dragged off a flight now and again.

By the same token, if customer-centricity is how you’ve chosen to win then you need to think differently. You need to weed out all operational policies and processes that would deliver poor customer experiences. Sometimes this means adding in some extra cost from providing extra communications or staff. Sometimes is means forgoing some revenues by not over-selling a product. But the return is great experiences that create loyalty because people love the service not because there isn’t an alternative.

Airlines have a monopoly, but the sports and fitness industry doesn’t. People always have the alternative of doing nothing. In our industry, a low cost + poor experience model won’t get more people participating. Don’t get caught in the middle by trying to be low cost and customer-centric. When priorities conflict cost usually wins and customers often lose. The answer is to pick one, and consistently execute on it.