Companies must have satisfied employees to satisfy customers. Continental Airlines is a perfect example of how a company can succeed by putting the emphasis on the employees and customers. Continental demonstrates remarkable turnaround from a disastrous performance.
In the early 1980's, the management of Continental believed that the only way to save the company was to lower airfares, and to reduce all possible expenses. In doing so, it demolished the product and their quality of service. For instance, in the early 1990s, pilots could earn bonuses if the fuel burn rate on their airplane fell below a specific amount. The program motivated pilots to fly slowly, which often resulted in missed arrival times. Because of the delays, it was sometimes necessary to divert customers to the competition. Another example of this horrible "low-cost" approach was the CALite program. Continental replaced all first-class seats in some airplanes with coach seats to lower the cost-per-seat. This failed when airplanes were swapped during adverse weather conditions; the business class seats were not available to the passengers that had paid for them. Moreover, CALite eliminated all food on flights, all travel agent commissions, and all corporate discounts. This infuriated many of their very important customers. After 15 years of this "low-cost" approach, Continental had succeeded in creating services that nobody wanted.
Continental's organizational culture was terrible. Many of the employees felt ashamed to work for Continental. Some employees were so ashamed, that they removed the logo from their shirts. To make matters worse, Continental had put in place a horrible communication structure: Nothing was told to the employees unless it was absolutely necessary. Most employees found out about company activities, plans, and performance through the public press. They did not have ways to share their ideas nor ask questions. For example, if an employee came up with an idea for improving service for the first-class passengers, there was a useless form to fill out. The information was hardly ever collected, and was never used as a source of possible improvements for the company. Furthermore, there were so many rules to follow that employees could not possibly do what was the best for customers.
The Department of Transportation ranked Continental tenth out of the ten largest U.S. airlines in all key customer service. Especially abysmal scores for on-time arrivals, baggage handling, customer complaints, and voluntary denied boarding. Continental had been through two bankruptcies and ten presidents over ten years. It also had not posted any profit since 1978.
The "Go Forward" plan was implemented under Gordon Bethune, Continental's chairman and CEO, and Greg Brenneman, president and COO. This plan had four components: (1) "Fly To Win" as a marketing plan, (2) "Fund The Future" as a financial plan, (3) "Make Reliability...