You cannot outsource responsibility for the customer experience

Another lesson from United Airlines

My last article referred to the United Airlines incident, where a passenger was forcibly removed from a plane. This created brand damage for the airline. The article referred to the importance of employees feeling empowered to override rules in favour of purpose, values and common sense. (

There is one significant factor that seems to have been overlooked amid the public outrage thrown the airline’s way: it was not United Airlines staff who removed the passenger. Rather, it was officers from the Chicago Aviation Police.

And, yet, it was the airline that took the major brunt of the blame. It was the airline’s share price and brand that took a nose-dive.

This article is not about the performance of the Aviation Police. As far as these officers were concerned, they were doing what they were being paid to do.

However, it does draw out another major lesson from this case: you can outsource services to third parties, but you can never outsource responsibility for the customer experience.

Let’s come back United Airlines a bit later on.

The customer experience consists of a series of moments of truth

For example, you may have had a number of great moments of truth with a cable TV company, right up to the time of the technician coming to your home. There is a better than good chance that the technician works for a third-party contractor.

A time is set for the technician to be at your home. You take time off work to be there. He arrives 45 minutes late.  You get annoyed.  Or, his people skills may not be great. He seems off-handed and rude. You get annoyed.

You blame the company for the state of your negative emotions. You take sweet revenge by letting people in your social network know about your bad experience.

So,  despite all of the great work that the cable TV company has put in to engage and train its own people to create happy customers, it all falls down at the end because the company has not included their third-party vendor in its organisational service engagement process.

A key moment of truth has been omitted from the company’s service attention – the service experience delivered by third-party vendors.

The impact? Unhappy people like you spread the word and weaken trust in the brand.

And that’s the point. The public will always blame the organisation that they are dealing with. The third-party vendor and the company are one in their eyes.

So, getting back to the key message…

…you can outsource your service, but the buck for the service experience will always stop with your company. Taking responsibility for the customer experience can never be outsourced.

In practical terms, this means that you need to make sure that all third-party vendor employees who represent your company need to understand your company, what it stands for, and the service experience that they are here to deliver.

They need to be trained to deliver your particular brand of customer service. And, measurement systems need to be put in place to keep both the service personnel and the outsource company on-track and on-brand. This of course starts with a business-to-third party vendor alignment and agreement.

Let’s now get back to United Airlines…

The CEO has taken swift action to increase employee empowerment levels, and to put the company’s purpose before rules. Great work.

But, I have a feeling that there is one base that he has not covered…

What will happen, should there be an unfortunate incident, some time in the future, where the Aviation Police are called in to remove a passenger? My guess is that the Aviation Police will do their job as they have been trained to do.

Unless action is taken to brief and train them on the Spirit of United Airlines, and how the airline would like even “unruly” passengers to be treated, there is a chance that the passenger will be removed by the Aviation Police in a way that does not align with the Spirit of United Airlines.

You can’t control what is happening in United Airlines, but you can control the quality of the end-to-end customer experience delivered by your company.

So what will you do differently tomorrow?

Until next time.


I am the Australian-born CEO of TMI Malaysia, a customer-experience consultancy. TMI has offices in 45 countries of the world. I would love to hear from you. Feel free to email me at

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