Nice interview in today's Wall Street Journal with Jeff Smisek, the new CEO of United Continental Holdings. Smisek was previously the CEO of Continental Airlines, which is merging with United Airlines. The interview (sorry, it's behind Rupert's paywall) by the Journal's Susan Carey, focuses on the challenges he faces merging two huge companies in a moribund industry. Continental, which we've written approvingly about before (see "If you treat me with respect, I'll do more for you"), has a better reputation for employee satisfaction than United does, which is known for having disgruntled employees. United is much larger than Continental.
So what's Smisek's biggest challenge and solution for making this new behemoth work? Fixing the corporate culture:
I am going myself to focus very heavily on the culture. Culture is incredibly important in a service business. I can lecture about service and we can train about service, but the employee is not going to give good service unless the employee wants to. They want to give good service if they enjoy coming to work, trust their co-workers [and] are given the tools they need to do their jobs.
In discussing the turnaround at Continental, Smisek talks about paying attention to the so-called little things, like keeping the plane cabins clean. Not just because it was disrespectful to the customers, but because it was disrespectful to the flight crews, who spent much more time in them.
Over the next two weeks, I'll be flying more than 20,000 miles on United, so I'm hoping to see the early results.
What do you think? Have you seen examples in your workplace where focusing on employee gruntledness translates into improved customer service? Or is it just a lot of happy talk? Share your thoughts in the comments below.