Customer or Company Mission?

Note: At the end of the post, we have a customer-centric checklist to help you with your mission statement!

It’s been reported that a flight attendant on a delayed American Eagle flight (part of American Airlines) began lashing out at passengers, daring them to leave the plane and essentially telling them to stop complaining.

A passenger taped the incident, so there is no doubt some of this happened. It’s right there on tape.

From USA Today Travel: “I don’t want to hear anything,” the New York Post video catches him saying. “We will not hear anything once we close the door. So if you have balls, this is your time. Otherwise you’re going to have to fly with Jose.”

Now the debate is about if he had the RIGHT to lash out when many passengers were complaining and taking their frustrations out on him.

I have witnessed many passengers behaving badly. I’ve been seated next to “it’s-my-right-to-push-the-call-button-50-times” Charlie. I’ve seen Ms. “I-can’t-believe-I’m-flying-coach” Mary. They are not nice to be around.

I’ve also observed Grumpy George gate attendant who didn’t have time for me asking a simple question about the flight. I’ve had the displeasure of flying with Surly Sue flight attendant who seems to go out of her way to knock knees with the cart, scowl at whomever she’s addressing and basically make the entire flying experience unpleasant.

Of course, they are not all like this. Most of us, both passengers and airline employees alike, are just trying to do our jobs, get from point A to point B, and carry on with some sense of dignity and decorum. Humor helps, too.

But I’m going to go out on a limb and wonder aloud here. Some airlines, Southwest comes to mind, seem to have employees AND passengers who take things a bit more in stride. I swear the “we’re all in this together” attitude is more present on those flights. And some airlines, American and United come to mind, seem to have adopted an “us v. them” mentality that is palpable in some circumstances.

My theory is that the way policy is written has something to do with this. So I looked up some mission statements, and here is what I found.

Southwest Airlines:

Our Mission Statement: The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit

And then there’s this:

American Airlines Inc Mission Statement:

AMR Corporation is committed to providing every citizen of the world with the highest quality air travel to the widest selection of destination possible.  AMR will continue to modernize its fleet while mantaining its position as the largest air carrier in the world, with the goal of becoming the most profitable airline. AMR is the airline that treats everyone with equal care and respect, which is reflected in the way each AMR employee is respected. AMR recognize that its employees are the key to the airlines success and invest in the futures in lives of its employees.  by investing in tomorrow technologies and by following a strict adherence towards environmental regulations, AMR demonstrate its commitment to the world environment.

See the difference?

Southwest is all about CUSTOMERS and how they will feel. They offer warmth and friendliness as part of their mission statement. Plus, it’s one sentence.

American Airlines offers a corporate-speak, completely self-focused paragraph. It’s all about employees, technology and modern fleets. Most telling: It doesn’t even have the word CUSTOMER or PASSENGER in it.

I say this is pretty telling. Culture, attitude and values are what create the experience. Yes, passengers were out of hand, I’m sure of it. Yes, the American Eagle flight attendant was upset and out of line. But did he act out of accordance with this mission? You could argue that they were still providing the “highest quality air travel” by following the rules and flying (or, in this case, not flying) safely. How does AA define quality? The mention of treating “everyone with equal care and respect” could be argued that in this case, everyone was treated with the same lowest level of care and respect. I guess that’s equal.

Southwest is simple and focused. American Airlines is corporate and all over the place.

What do you think? I think it’s high time every mission statement everywhere mentions customers. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Take a look at your own mission statement!

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Does your mission statement reflect the experience you have promised for your customers?

We have made a special checklist to help you reinforce your customer-centric vision, from the ground up. Gather your team and deconstruct your brand promise, then sleep on it. The best mission statements are not conceived during a 45-minute power session!


Photo Credit: BriYYZ via Creative Commons license


Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the Chief Customer Experience Investigator™ and founder of 360Connext, a global consulting firm specializing in the cornerstones of customer experience: customer engagement, employee engagement and connections like social media. 360Connext serves mid-market companies and larger by helping them evaluate their true customer experience. The evaluations always lead to improvements which then lead to results like increased online conversions or loyalty.

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  1. says

    Good insight, Jeannie. 
    It’s clear that one of those mission statements is written for the customer, and designed to be read by the customer. Regardless of whether any customers are aware of it, the idea is clear – Southwest is thinking from the customers’ perspective. 
    The other is, as you said, corporate speak. What customer is going to read and understand that? Or care? 
    It’s important that businesses today show empathy and think about things from the customers’ perspective. The customer service environment is changing – today’s customers are more informed and more demanding. Customer service is no longer an afterthought – it’s a competitive tool that’s intimately connected with marketing and sales teams. Customers are forward thinking – they take service into account when making big purchases, and they will choose the product backed up by better service when they can. They are willing to spend a bit more with a company that is on their side. 
    Businesses need to invest the time, energy and effort required to bring in the right people and the right organizational tools to get customer service right. They need to listen on all fronts, respond to customers, and reach out frequently. Customer service is just as important as sales or marketing. In fact, great service can turn your customers into salespeople. 
    Thanks for starting this conversation
    John-Paul Narowski, Founder – karmaCRM

    • says

       Thanks, John-Paul. I totally agree. I would also argue that companies need to become forward thinking about the entire experience for their customers. The mission statement should be the start of that. Thanks for adding your perspective.

  2. Gaynelle Grover says

    Great post Jeannie. However, I think American actually has a different “corporate speak” mission statement. (The one you link to is from another blogger, and looks like it may be language from an annual report?) Below is what I found on the American Airlines Facebook page, labeled Mission Statement. ( While slightly different, it still reinforces your points.  
    “Setting the industry standard for safety and security; providing world-class customer service; creating an open and participative work environment which seeks positive changes, rewards innovation and provides growth, security and opportunity to all employees; and providing consistently superior financial returns for shareholders.”

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