United partering with IBM and Apple to bring mobility to the friendly skies

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It’s no secret that United has the reputation of being remiss in regards to customer service, most of which is totally warranted.  But for those of us who have stuck it through there are good news.  From the United Hub site:

Technology is a driving force behind our airline and our commitment to getting you, our customers, to the people and places that inspire you.

In that spirit, on February 2 we announced a collaboration with IBM to deliver custom iOS apps that help unleash the power of the more than 50,000 Apple devices in the hands of our front-line employees. Over the past several years, we have increasingly sought to put the unique capabilities of the iPhone and iPad to work to improve the customer experience.

Are we witnessing a shift in United’s culture as it pertains to its customers?

What it means for United

 United’s CIO Linda Jojo told the following to Business Insider in an interview at the company’s Global Leadership Conference in Chicago:

A partnership with Apple and IBM gives our app-development enterprise scale, reusability, and — most importantly — speed.  We’re going to be able to deliver more tools and technologies faster to our front line than we could if we were building it all ourselves.

With so many areas of interest that United needs to work on, partnering with technology third-parties will allow for quicker development, resulting in quicker -and positive we hope- impact to the customer.  In other words, United’s IT folks will not have to schedule and devote as much time to build new solutions in-house, and thus will be able to handle more technology initiatives at the same time.

What it means for United employees

UA front line associates will be able to provide services at real time, regardless of location.  Here are a few examples:

  • Flight attendants will have greater visibility into which customers are connecting in order to assist them in finding their gates upon arrival
  • Customer service agents will have more freedom to move about the concourse assisting customers instead of being tied to a service desk or workstations – this will be particularly beneficial when there are major delays or cancellations
  • Staff will have the ability instantly communicate aircraft maintenance problems or concerns to the maintenance team for swifter attention to these issues

What it means to you as a customer

 The previous two sections are all meant to benefit us as customers (I hope).  After all, isn’t the customer all that should matter?  In theory, we benefit from United being able to take on more initiatives now, as part of the partnership with IBM and Apple,  and we’ll benefit from front line associates being able to provide better customer service now they have the right tools.  This DOES NOT in anyway excuse the terrible customer service that many have received for years and in recent times, although from what I’ve experienced and seen in the last half a year, there’s reason for optimism.

And yet, just like reader Beth, there are many who will hold on to those bad experiences for a long time, and with reason.  Are we witnessing a shift in United’s culture as it pertains to its customers?  I certainly hope so.  However, only time will tell.

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