United Pilots Show Power of the Human Touch

An erstwhile statesman once said, “Corporations are people, my friend.” And while he was making an entirely different point and the line was deservedly mocked, there is a core truth to the statement.

Companies are ultimately made up of people, so they should communicate the way people do. Customers like to know they’re dealing with actual humans and not institutions.

That’s a pretty basic principle, but we see companies blow it all the time, with incomprehensible jargon, mealy-mouthed apologies and bad customer service.

So when a business goes out of its way to show its human side, it really stands out.

I just got back from a trip to Hawaii (honeymoon, actually, albeit 14 months after the wedding). Just before we landed in Maui, a flight attendant handed these out:

United Human TouchIt’s a personal, handwritten thank you note that the pilot wrote on the back of his business card—his actual business card, complete with his email address.

Now these only went to first class passengers (I don’t usually fly first class, but we thought we’d splurge and use miles for this trip), but I thought it was a really nice touch.

I also thought it was an isolated thing. But on our return trip, the pilot came out beforehand and basically gave us a personal briefing on the flight plan and asked us if we had any questions.

And it wasn’t just for first class, either. He strolled back to coach and chatted with them as well.

I don’t know if both the pilots were acting on individual initiative or if this a new push by United to personalize their customer service approach, but I like it.

It’s smart, too. It creates goodwill—which is always a good thing for a business with as much unpredictability and potential aggravation as airline travel.

And it helps humanize the pilots in an era where they remain sealed off behind a locked, reinforced door.

Finally, it’s a nice, surprising touch that makes an otherwise routine transaction a little special.

Of course, if it is policy, it’s going to be tough keeping it fresh, so it doesn’t just become another routine part of the flying experience. But for now, I say bravo, United.