AA doesn’t get an A

August 3, 2009 · Print this post

A lot of people blame bad design and bad customer service in big organizations on the fact that they are big organizations. This is what Mr. X did. But that’s a cop-out. The reason large companies with bad design are the way they are is because they are run poorly from the top, with philosophies that force the entire company to behave like its lowest common denominator.
 
— User interface/experience designer Dustin Curtis

A while ago, I came across this Open Letter to American Airlines from user interface and experience designer Dustin Curtis, who was so exasperated by his experience on AA’s website that he wrote to tell them that their site abused and alienated customers. Then he took a couple hours out of his life and redesigned it for them.

I cheered. I hate that website with a passion, and in fact will pay Expedia.com potentially ridiculous fees to make my reservations so that I don’t have to deal with AA. They aren’t alone — many companies that depend on revenue from customer loyalty and margins from lower-cost online operations shoot themselves in their incorporated feet by providing an online experience that feels like a visit to a special circle of hell.

And then Curtis got this heartbreaking response from an anonymous user experience architect at AA. It turns out that the problem is not the capabilities of the folks working on the site — it’s the corporate culture that makes it nigh on impossible for capable people to do a good job.

That’s #managementfail on a grand scale. This is the 21st century. Every company needs to embrace the fact that you are defined as much by your online presence as your in-person customer interactions. Pixels don’t hide poor management: in fact, sometimes the flaws show even more.

One Response to “AA doesn’t get an A”

  1. Pierce Watters on August 4th, 2009 4:11 am

    Once people rise to a certain level a sort of blindness or brain freeze can set in. They no longer believe they are fallible, and sometimes begin to think they are perfect at everything. I have seen this so often in companies that I believe it is a very common occurence. I have my own three laws for business success and number 2 is “Hire professionals.” This has a sub-heading, “Then listen to them.”