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Where have all of the “customer first” heroes gone?

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

LOS ANGELES – FEBRUARY 22: United Airlines airplanes on February 22 2016 in Los Angeles. United Airlines is an American airline headquartered in Chicago.

Years ago, I worked on the in-house communications/public relations team for Nordstrom at their Seattle headquarters. One of the things that Nordstrom was known for at the time was their truly legendary customer service. Those were the days of stories like, “Nordstrom loves its customers so much that they will accept any returns, no questions asked — even snow tires!” Of course, Nordstrom doesn’t sell snow tires, but that famous return did actually happen several years ago at their store in Anchorage, Alaska.

Every employee at Nordstrom from the most entry-level clerks to the most senior executives were empowered to put the customer first in all decisions. It was a policy that profited the company greatly and polished their brand reputation until it sparkled for many years … until other issues started to bring down the great fashion retailer. But that topic is for another day. Today, my rant is about: Where have all of the “customer first” brand heroes gone?

Starbucks is making good progress in this area due to the great work of my former WE colleague Corey duBrowa, now SVP of Global Communications at Starbucks, and the rest of the Starbucks team.

But, today I have another company on my mind. United Airlines. No one can escape the onslaught of negative coverage, social media slams, witty/scathing slogans, memes and non-stop commentary about this airline that is losing altitude … fast.

I’d like to offer United Airlines’ corp comms team some well-intentioned advice that they may or may not already be thinking about. I hope that they don’t mind this armchair quarterbacking on my part. I’m just so fired up about this situation (and I really feel your pain, guys) that I just have to say something. I’ve dealt with some crazy crisis situations over the years, but nothing like this.

10 “Must Do” Steps Toward Recovering Brand Trust for United Airlines

1. United Airlines’ leadership team must acknowledge that the company has a widespread fundamental disconnect regarding customer service throughout every level of the organization. That said, given the blowback so far, I’ve got to believe that CEO Oscar Munoz is now definitely onboard with taking a proactive approach to solving this problem as quickly as possible. If he is still resisting counsel then United Airlines has an even bigger problem and I wish the comms team the best of luck with that. But, I believe that Mr. Munoz is smart enough to know that he needs to listen to advice and lead United Airlines out of this mess by sticking to a “customer first” and “just do what you know is the right/moral thing to do” standard operating procedure. That should be SOP 101 in times of crisis like this.

Also, while people around the world are calling for the United Airlines’ board of directors to fire the CEO over this, I don’t think that is the right move since he is relatively new to his role since being named president and CEO of United Airlines in September 2015. He may have not yet been able to make all of the changes that he wants/needs at the organization to improve its flight pattern. That kind of distraction and disruption over a CEO change at such a large company is to helpful during a time of crisis … unless the CEO is part of the problem. I have never met him but if CEO Munoz is a strong leader, “gets it” and has hero potential he should be supported. If not, another leader should be brought in.

This is the time for Mr. Munoz to make some bold moves and man-up. He actually has the opportunity now to set a heroic course for this company’s future. I hope that he does. It will take a tremendous amount of work and courage but the results could be transformational. By focusing on customers now, he will ultimately maximize profits for his shareholders in the future. But, by only focusing on maximizing profits now at the expense of customer service will totally jeopardize the airline’s future success.

2. CEO Munoz should empower all employees at every level to “put the customer first” in all interactions and empower them to make smart decisions about how to support the “customer first” goal.

3. Establish and clearly articulate a new era of customer service for the company. This new vision and “sense of purpose” about customer service must be so well described and engrained that employees have no hesitation when making decisions on the fly. Sure you can roll out a company-wide memo but this needs to be more than that. Everyone must live and breathe this total customer service mentality for all customers (external or internal). That means the executive suite too. No exceptions.

4. To roll this out, get professional leadership and change management experts to assist with this employee transformation work. We work with some great groups who do this and they’re probably calling United Airlines now.

5. For the external comm team, it’s time to re-group and establish new ground rules with the execs. No execs or management should be making any public comments without being fully vetted by the comm team and all company statements litmus tested against the “customer first” policy. Also, you guys need to tighten up your “one voice” policy or get a clue if you don’t have one. Why did the public statement apologizing for the actions of employees and the leaked employee memo supporting the employees’ actions directly contradict each other? Hello! All communications should be considered public. Everything will be leaked. Always. In fact, it is good to be transparent and authentic in a time of crisis if you are truly working hard to do the right thing.

And, a little common sense reality check wouldn’t hurt either. For example, why the heck didn’t someone just charter a small airplane to fly those flight attendants and pilots to their next flight hub? Of course, they couldn’t drive or fly themselves since safety rules require that the crew be well rested before a flight. A chartered flight would been a comparatively inexpensive option compared to what may turn out to be a multimillion dollar loss of business and devastating brand equity hit for the airlines due to this PR fiasco.That should be one of the first lessons of “customer first” decision-making that employees will be encouraged to do going forward.

6. A little humility, transparency, authenticity and mea culpa is also in order for all external comm. While yesterday’s announcement that UA was refunding ALL passengers onboard who witnessed that infamous “customer dragging” on that flight probably seemed like a good idea on the surface, I’m not sure all of the potential blow-back scenarios were totally thought through. That generous move was seen by snarky commenters on social media as “manipulative” and “just a protect the bank account move by United Airlines to avoid getting sued by all the passengers.”

I liked the decision that United Airlines made to put their money where their mouth was on the response, but somehow their apparently sincere mea cupa didn’t resonate with the public. Or, maybe it was just that the United Airlines’ long history of, well … being a “jerk” about customer service means that the public has LOST ALL TRUST IN THEIR BRAND. Yikes! So, no matter what they say, no one is going to believe anything that they say for a really, really long time. Their positive actions and focus on customer service wins will have to speak louder than words.

I think a more simple approach for a statement could have been along the lines of this (simplified language here):
“We screwed up. We are very sorry and we are very embarrassed by our company’s actions. That is not how we ever want to treat our valued customers. We are taking immediate action to fix our customer service and working hard to win back your business. What do you think we should do to fix this and become the airline that you want us to be?”

The important thing is to be humble enough to ASK for feedback and engagement. It may be a very painful process but the more customers engage constructively in giving feedback, the more they will stay engaged in the outcome and hopefully that will be UA’s opportunity to win back their business.

7. Kick off a customer listening campaign (see above).

8. Make sure the company is walking the walk and talking the talk before making any lame announcements about customer service improvements. Only totally authentic customer service hero stories will do and they can’t be forced/manufactured. This is going to take TIME and patience.

9. CEO Oscar Munoz must give United Airlines’ comms team the time and space to work with the rest of the company’s “repair” teams and outside consultants to slowly help the company and its beleaguered brand heal from this event. This will take an investment of time, money and patience.

10. Oh, and quit overbooking your flights! Give your comm team a break here because if overbooking fiascos like this continue to happen then your PR team will be on a non-stop fire-fighting treadmill until United Airlines is permanently grounded by bankruptcy.

Maybe this is United Airlines’ opportunity to emerge from the proverbial ashes of this mess and transform as a new kind of airline that REFUSES to overbook its flights. That seems to me to be one heck of a way to differentiate the company from the pack. Sure, there will be a financial short-term hit but over time customers may be willing to pay more for the peace of mind that comes from guaranteed flights and higher levels of customer service with authentic, real-time opportunities for customer feedback in a environment of constant improvement. One can only hope.

That is my rant for the day. I could go on with more ideas but it’s time to get back to work. Thank you for listening.

What do you think about the situation at United Airlines?

McKenzie Worldwide Joins PDX Cyber Camp Sponsor List

Monday, February 20th, 2017
Students in class working on desktop computer

PDX Cyber Camp helps prepare students for employment in the rapidly growing field of cybersecurity.

McKenzie Worldwide is proud to be a sponsor again of this year’s PDX Cyber Camp which is focused on providing motivated high school students with a hands-on, introductory experience to cybersecurity principles, including hands-on implementation of cybersecurity policies and practices in Windows and Ubuntu operating systems. We’re also particularly excited about the camp’s “Girls Only” session which hopes to inspire young women to pursue rewarding and high-paying technical careers in cybersecurity.

Lincoln High School’s Coding Club and EnergySec are a driving force behind the cybersecurity camp which is organized and managed by a team of high school students, educators and industry professionals. This year, Pacific Star Communications, Inc. (PacStar) is the Title Sponsor of the 2017 PDX Cyber Camp which is great news! PacStar provides specialized hardware and software solutions for military and commercial customers requiring reliable 24/7 advanced communications so cybersecurity is very important to them.

Cybersecurity is one of today’s hottest technical fields, with some experts forecasting a shortage of up to 1 million of trained professionals in the coming years. Careers in cybersecurity can be incredibly rewarding, high-paying, and are in demand worldwide in just about every industry.

Camp Details:
• Date: Monday July 17th through Friday July 21st, 2017
• Camp Times: Full day camp.
• Camp Reception: Thursday, July 20th
• Location #1, (Girls Only) Lincoln High School, 1600 SW Salmon St, Portland, OR 97205, Room #223
• Location #2, (Co-Ed), Center for Advanced Learning, 1484 NW Civic Dr., Gresham, OR 97030
• Location #3 (Co-Ed): Mentor Graphics, 8005 Boeckman Rd, Wilsonville, Oregon
• Cost: $150. Scholarships available based on financial need.
• Food: Lunches provided.
• The camp facility supports a maximum of 30 students, and will be limited to that size so each student will have a dedicated computer system.

Curriculum and Highlights:
• Introduction to cybersecurity and ethics
• Introduction to VMware Player
• Hands on security configuration of Windows and Ubuntu operating systems
• Mock cyber competition
• Guest speakers from leading cybersecurity companies
• Networking reception with security business professionals

Instruction will be provided by industry cyber security experts as well as advanced students, and/or instructors from educational organizations. Each student will have their own dedicated high-performance computer during the class, which includes extensive labs.

The program will include guest speakers with deep experience in cybersecurity technologies and careers. 2016 speakers included cyber incident responders, malware analysts and cybersecurity researchers from Lockheed Martin (Leidos), RSA, Intel Security, Galois and PacStar.

By participating in the camp, students will receive valuable experience that can help them qualify for cybersecurity internships at local companies. Three students on the 2016 organizing team of this camp landed internships at cyber and network security companies in Portland.

The PDX Cyber Camp is non-profit and volunteer driven. All proceeds and sponsorships go only towards direct expenses such as curriculum, supplies, and outreach expense.

Apply for the camp now by visiting this link:

When a key editor needed video content, Tektronix (and our agency) delivered

Friday, February 20th, 2015

One way that you can build trust in your company’s brand and continue to strengthen your relationship with the editorial community is to help out those hard-working editors who cover your company and its products whenever you can. Editors are typically short on time, yet they always have lots of content that they need to generate for their online publications. Therefore, providing them with useful video content that is compelling, news-style and professionally produced, such as the remote video interviews that we recently helped manage and produce for our client Tektronix, is just a good thing.

We recently worked with our Tektronix clients to develop two CNN-style remote interview videos for Martin Rowe, senior technical editor at Electronic Design Network (EDN), of him interviewing an expert at Tektronix. The objective was to help Martin give his readers/viewers who were unable to attend this year’s DesignCon a great overview of a few of the important technology issues that were going to be discussed at the show

In the videos, Chris Loberg, senior technical marketing manager, at Tektronix was interviewed via phone by Martin Rowe about trends as well as 100G standards and measurements. The videos were posted on EDN and featured a Q&A interview with Martin.

Martin loved the videos that we produced and he received such positive feedback from his colleagues at the publication that we expect we’ll be helping them out with many more videos to come.

Remember, thinking creatively about the best ways to help our editors and our clients is what we enjoy doing every day.  Please give us a call if you would like McKenzie Worldwide to help you build trust in your brand!



BETTERY Fans Want Battery Swap Stations at Safeway Too!

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Today’s Oregonian featured an article on the cover of the Living section about battery recycling which highlighted the work that our terrific client BETTERY Inc. is doing in this space. Carrie Sturrock’s well-written article, Battery Recyclers Turn Up The Juice, takes an in-depth look at the issue and includes some great quotes from BETTERY execs Charlie Kawasaki and Bob Altabet.  And one Safeway shopper says she wants Safeway to get with it and offer BETTERY kiosks in their stores.

Are you recycling your batteries and using rechargeable ones to help the environment? You should! Check out this article for more information.


BETTERY’s Earth Day Event for Kids at Whole Foods Market Stores Was a Hit!

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

One of the most important things a new company’s leadership team should consider as they are building their company’s brand is to really “live their brand” every day. And, some days are extra special. For our client BETTERY, Earth Day and Earth Month in April are special times because they align with the company’s sustainability mission to do something positive for the environment.

As part of our PR program, we worked with the BETTERY team to organize their first BETTERY Battery Recycling Earth Day Events for Kids at Whole Foods Market stores. At these events, BETTERY focused on educating local school children about the importance of recycling and battery recycling/reuse in particular.

The kids had fun. We had fun. Most importantly, lots of batteries were recycled which means fewer will end up in landfills this year. More than 2.5 billion single-use batteries end up in landfills in the U.S. each year. Isn’t that a terrible state of affairs? Fortunately, BETTERY offers a better solution for your household batteries.

Here’s some photos from the event today:

In this photo Mill Plain Elementary first graders listen and learn about the importance of battery recycling as BETTERY Founder and CEO Charlie Kawasaki explains how his new invention, the BETTERY Swap Station, works.








Charlie also demonstrated the newly installed BETTERY Swap Station for buying and exchanging reusable batteries to Mill Plain Elementary first-grader Michael Hall (7) at the Whole Foods Market store at Mill Plain in Vancouver.









Members of the local media also were on hand to cover these events.

Happy Earth Day!


Go Green Special on KATU-TV Features BETTERY!

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Our client BETTERY was featured in KATU-TV’s “Go Green” television special which we arranged to be recorded at a Whole Foods Market location and at Total Reclaim’s facilities near Portland, Oregon. Overall, it turned out great and explains the importance of battery recycling and how BETTERY is poised to reinvent the portable power industry — all while helping consumers do something positive for the environment, creating jobs and having fun!


BETTERY Video Shows Just How Easy It Is To Help the Environment By Reusing or Recycling Your Batteries

Friday, April 12th, 2013

We had fun shooting, editing and producing this video for our client BETTERY. Check it out and learn how to use their BETTERY Swap Station kiosk. We can all do our part to help the environment and this idea makes it SO easy!

BETTERY Founder Charlie Kawasaki Demonstrates Nation’s First Kiosk for Exchange of Reusable Batteries from McKenzie Worldwide on Vimeo.

Register now to see John Seely Brown’s talk in San Francisco on October 18

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

John Seely Brown, a visiting scholar at USC and the independent co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge, will be sharing his unique views on technology in the human context during his upcoming talk at the Westin San Francisco Market Street hotel on Tuesday, October 18th. His presentation is part of OpenText’s Purpose-Driven speaker series. Part scientist, part artist and part strategist, his views are unique and distinguished by a broad view of the human contexts in which technologies operate and a healthy skepticism about whether or not change always represents genuine progress. He will be sharing his thoughts and research on intrinsic motivation, incentive systems, learning organizations, organizational design and facing new challenges.

This free event is sponsored by OpenText , a global leader in content management and social software, including OpenText Social Work Place which helps purpose-driven teams assemble, stay connected, and achieve breakthrough results.

Register online at and follow the event on Facebook.

Watch John’s keynote on YouTube here.

Michael Edson’s Talk Wows Crowd

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Michael Edson of The Smithsonian Institution gave a fascinating talk this morning at The Willard Hotel only a few blocks away from The White House on  Pennsylvania Avenue. It was fun to watch as his witty, intellectual rapid-fire talk had the entire room buzzing with interest as he talked about the unique social media challenges and opportunities faced by government agencies and non-profit organizations. The audience was so engaged during the Q&A session that we were actually kicked out of our meeting room by the hotel staff to make way for the next event!

You can check out his presentation here:

Michael Edson

Michael Edson Purpose-Driven Talk from McKenzie Worldwide on Vimeo.

Join us for an engaging talk by The Smithsonian Institution’s New Media Guru in Washington, DC on September 21

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

Michael Edson, Director of Web and New Media Strategy at the Smithsonian Institution, is the next speaker on the schedule for OpenText’s Purpose-Driven Speaker Series. During his talk, Michael will unveil a series of provacative new ideas about the changing relationship between technology, organizations, and the future—and what we should do about it. Michael’s presentation and discussion afterwards should be valuable for leaders, employees, and collaborators engaged in all types of work.

You can RSVP for this event here.


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