Don’t Be Arrogant; You Need Your Customers More Than They Need You.

Customers, Customer Service

Like many consultants, I travel quite a bit and spend a fair bit of time at airports as a result.  And since I live in Germany and my clients are (mostly) in Europe and in the States, my most popular route (once a month on average) is flying United Airlines between Frankfurt (FRA) and Newark (EWR).  Once at Newark, I continue to my destination.

I can never bring myself to purchase a business-class ticket; even if my client offers or if it’s within their travel guidelines.  I just can’t justify spending the extra $5,000rt+ for the airline ticket.  For the Frankfurt-Newark flight, that’s roughly and extra $300 per flight hour.  Perhaps it’s because my business is about eliminating waste and maximizing value; maybe I am just thrifty (read: cheap). In any case, I can’t cost-justify the additional expense.

Of course, I will gladly accept a free upgrade if the airline gives it to me.

My status on United Airlines means that I get a free upgrade to “economy-plus”, which gives me preferred location on the aircraft and more legroom.  Since I am not a big person and can sleep on a pointy rock on demand, this suits me just fine.

My one indulgence is that I make sure to have a good meal at the airport (yes, it’s possible) before I get on the aircraft.  This way, I can forego the meal on the aircraft and get to reading or napping.

At Frankfurt, the Lufthansa Senator Lounge is excellent.  The breakfast they offer is quite good and the beverage options are extensive.  While at Newark, the United Lounge is nice (not nearly as nice as the Lufthansa Senator Lounge).

However, United Airlines uses Newark as one of its hubs and has invested heavily in Terminal-C; putting in countless restaurants, cafes, and shops (in addition to its lounges).  It is my favorite airport terminal.

So, my one indulgence when I am departing from (or traveling through) Newark is to stop at the best steakhouse I have ever visited; Saison.

Yes, you read that right, the best and most favorite steakhouse in the world (and I have been to many and love a good ribeye), can be found at Newark Airport’s Terminal-C.

The ribeye (char-broiled and done to perfection) along with a couple glasses of Côtes du Rhône or Châteauneuf du Pape will cost about $100.  But you can easily cut the ribeye with the stupid plastic butter knives they give you at Newark; with the wines being a perfect pairing. 

And since I saved on the flight, I have no issue justifying this indulgence. Besides, if I do it right, I won’t feel the need to eat on the plan and will wake-up 30min before landing.

I have been visiting Saison for years (with the exception of a few months in 2020 during the COVID pandemic when I was still traveling, but it was closed).  And since I am there at least once per month, I have become a regular; always warmly greeted like Norm from Cheers.  The service I receive is outstanding – great bunch of folks work here.

All of the hospitality services (restaurants, cafés, and shops) at Newark are managed by a company called OTG; an airport hospitality group that provides dining and retail services.  In addition to Newark, OTG provides their services at several airports that include; MSP, JFK, LGA, YYZ, IAH, DCA, PHL, MCO, and ORD. 

OTG’s Facebook page claims “OTG’s mission is to transform the airport experience for travelers” – and that they are “… known for its best-in-class approach to dining and retail in airports…” and “…recognized throughout the industry for its exceptional customer focus…” 

My experience is that this is not the case – that OTG has lost its way.  Not only is OTG disenfranchising its existing and potential customers, but they are also hurting themselves in a material way; they are losing revenue.  And they are seemingly too arrogant to admit they made a mistake and to take corrective action.

So, what’s the rub?  What stone is in my shoe?

Specifically, OTG’s new ordering system at the restaurants.

The old ordering system was pretty good. 

There were iPads at every seat.  To order, you simply called-up the menu which was organized as you would expect; appetizers, mains, deserts, beer, wine, and so on.  You selected what you wanted including sub-selections as appropriate.  The system would present you with the final order and give you the opportunity to add/change/delete.  Then you went to payment where you would slide your credit card in the reader and be done.

The biggest challenge I might have when using the system was scanning the barcode on my boarding pass to get my 20% discount for being a Chase United-Explorer cardholder.

From start to finish, I can place an order in just a short few minutes.  If I knew exactly what I wanted, it would take less than two minutes.

The customer experience;

The new ordering system is an abomination.  Rick Blatstein, the CEO of OTG might believe the system is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but I call bullshit.  Just take another look at the video to see my very real experience.

First, you no longer order from the iPad.  The iPad is used only to provide a QR Code which identifies your seat and calls-up the restaurant menu on your smartphone.

  • Fail: Smartphone.  If you do not have a smartphone, then you cannot order anything at all from a restaurant, period. No soup (or anything) for you.
  • Fail: Internet access (WiFi).  You need internet access to order. This is not a given as the WiFi coverage is not complete throughout Newark.  At Saison, the entire back half of the restaurant was a dead-zone unless you were in the far back and can catch the United Lounge WiFi.
  • Fail: Internet access (mobile data).  Since I have Verizon as my mobile service provider, I was able to place my order using my mobile data.  However, if I were a foreigner and I did not have international data plan, then I cannot order anything, period. I actually allowed a couple from the UK to use my phone to order, otherwise they would be SOL.

Next, the user interface is unwieldy and unpredictable. In a word, it sucks.

  • Fail: System Speed. Navigating the system is painfully slow. I spent so much time watching the little circle thing spin. Sometimes it would (eventually) get you to where you expected to be, sometimes not. I am not sure if it’s the server or the system. I do know it was not the internet connection itself because it made no difference whether I was using WiFi or mobile data.
  • Fail: Selecting an Item.  Once you found the item you wanted, adding it to the cart was very challenging.  Even though there is a large bar to add the selected item, it seemed as if there was only one pixel (upper edge at the center) that was active.  Pressing anyplace else on the bar did nothing.
  • Fail: Entering Discount Code.  From my experience and as near as I can tell, successfully checking out is only by pure luck.  Entering a discount code may or may not work either in whole or in part.  Sometimes it would take the discount code, sometimes it wouldn’t, sometimes it would return a discount less than expected.  Keep trying.  It will eventually come up with the correct discount (probably, maybe).
  • Fail: Checking out.  It takes a long time for the system to calculate the amount you are to pay.  If the system didn’t get the right discount, you have to repeat the calculation.  Once the correct amount is presented, you have to hit the “payment” bar at the bottom which uses the same single pixel as selecting an item to order.  Then the system may or may not work.  If it seemingly locks up, though, all is not lost.  Just close all the sessions on your smartphone, scan the QR code on the iPad, and the system will take you back to your shopping cart (which is saved) and you get the opportunity to start the payment process again.  What fun.

If you don’t believe me, just watch this video of me ordering a couple of drinks.  It takes 20 minutes just to place the order.  Not kidding. Painful.

Once ordered, it took only 10min or less to receive the order.

My advice to you;

  • If your free time at the airport is less than one (1) hour – or you don’t have a smartphone or you are a foreigner without a data plan for the States – just go to the food court or vendor and get a canned drink and a bag of chips.
  • If you have more than an hour, enjoy a restaurant.  But just be patient.  I suggest you start with the drink menu.  And do understand that the waitstaff hates the system more than you do and might be frustrated for you, not at you

The business results;

I have spoken with a few of the managers of the restaurants at Newark.  Every single one of them has reported that revenue is down by double-digit percentages.

They are losing revenue because of the wait time.  People either don’t have the time to order or they don’t have the time to order more.

They are losing revenue because people who don’t have a smart phone, access to WiFi, or a mobile data plan simply can’t order.  One manager reported to me that, when he complained to OTG Corporate about the challenge, the response was; “Well, everyone should have a smartphone with a data plan – it’s the future!”.  If true, what an arrogant and out of touch SOB that person is.  I would fire them in a heartbeat.

They are losing revenue because people become frustrated, give up, and leave.  Even after this system is (hopefully) repaired or replaced, people will be hesitant to give the restaurants another chance because of the poor past experiences.  Customer acquisition / re-acquisition costs will increase significantly.

They are losing revenue because of increased demands for refunds due to delays.  I personally witnessed a person who placed an order for a Philly Cheesesteak and, after 30min, had to leave to catch their flight because of the backlog before the order was up. Since he had to pay when he placed the order, he said he was just going to demand a refund (of who? how?).

Moral of the story;

There are thousands of obstacles between a company and its sale – and a customer and their purchase.  A company that puts up additional obstacles by its own hand risks losing sales; if the obstacles are large enough, they risk losing customers.

And a company that puts up obstacles and demands that it is the responsibility and expectation of the customer to overcome them is arrogant beyond belief and just plain stupid. 

In my opinion, OTG is just plain stupid.

After all, OTG is a company, not a government agency.  And the customer has a choice.

About the author

Joseph F Paris Jr

Joseph Paris is an international expert in the field of Operational Excellence, organizational design, strategy development and deployment, and helping companies become high-performance organizations.  His vehicles for change include being the Founder of; the XONITEK Group of Companies; the Operational Excellence Society; and the Readiness Institute.

He is a sought-after speaker and lecturer and his book, “State of Readiness” has been endorsed by senior leaders at some of the most respected companies in the world.

Click here to learn more about Joseph Paris or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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