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Is “unfriendly and unhelpful” a good business strategy?

Japan’s low-cost carrier Skymark Airlines is making a concerted effort to cut operating costs by simplifying services. Japan’s major daily Mainichi Shimbun reports that since mid-May, brochures have been placed in all seat pockets letting passengers know that they are not allowed to complain during their flights! If they wish to file a complaint about any aspect of their flight experience, they must do so after the flight by calling its customer centre or public consumer affairs centres. In addition, the brochures advise that “crew members will not help” passengers load bags into the overhead bins and that the company does not order crew members “to use polite words” in dealing with customers. They end proudly with “We provide onboard services in a style that makes a difference from others.”

[Deep breath]. So it seems that this organization thinks that being helpful and polite is what is sinking their business! Apparently, the way to increase revenue and build customer loyalty is to be unhelpful and indifferent. And this too in a country where good manners and protocol are the pillars of society and a fundamental way of life!  Sheesh!

I wonder how successful this approach is going to be. I think you can tell that I believe it’s a step in the wrong direction, and evidently at least one other person agrees with me. According to the newspaper report, an official of another airline expressed concern that the concept could affect the reputation of the entire air transport industry. What about you? What do you think?


  • It’s about time. Those airline passengers think it is their right to treat airline crew like their maids. This may also reduce the loading time of the flight and hence improve on-time performance.

    Also, having a crew member try to resolve a problem in the narrow confines of an airline seat is a disturbance to other passengers. The customer complaint center would have dedicated staff trained in customer care to deal with complaints – I like it.

  • I find it odd that we sometimes equate meanness with efficiency. I have no concerns with suggesting significant complaints be dealt with through a service center. That is where many need to be resolved truly… in order to see and trends and ensure moving beyond them, it seems to me. That being said, to suggest politeness and courtesy hamper efficiences is simplistic and misguided. Being kind takes no more time and often gets quicker and better results. 100 years of Dale Carnegie’s message and the messages of all ancient wisdom… and many of us still don’t quite get that.

  • Good grief! I agree with you! It is insane to think that being polite and helpful to customers is a negative. Customers are the reason for their existence!

  • In my opinion excellent customer service always trumps cost savings. I believe that a business gains much more from loyal customers than from cutting operating costs to the bare bones. This extends to employees – whom will be proud to work at a company that takes pride in excellent customer service, and therefore are loyal to the company, thus reducing staff turnover.

    There is a very touching story about Southwest Airlines and how they went above and beyond – at great expense to the company I might add. See the link below from USA Today.

  • Great discussion everyone. Dianne, you know that I agree with you on a lot of things, but on this one, you and I are not of the same mind. What if you have someone that’s elderly or has a disability and needs assistance with physical tasks such as putting bags in the overhead bin? Should we now just hope that another kind passenger will help? True, there will always be people who treat others like their servants, but should we put a policy in place that goes for the lowest common denominator and paints everyone with the same brush? I’m all for efficiency, but not at any price!

  • Lyndon, thanks for the link to the Southwest story — I think it’s a great example of how a focus on the customer creates goodwill, not just for the customer who was helped in this case, but within a much greater community.


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