A few days ago I wrote about a fascinating banner that United had up regarding their corporate accounts. The most interesting details were that Apple is United’s largest global customer, and they account for $150 million of United’s annual revenue.
Furthermore, United’s number one market for Apple is San Francisco to Shanghai, which accounts for $35 million of that annual revenue. Apparently Apple buys 50 business class seats on United daily between San Francisco and Shanghai. WOW.
Now, as you might expect, the details of these corporate contracts are confidential for a variety of reasons, so this wasn’t supposed to get out. Generally they’re confidential because:
- The company they’re working with doesn’t necessarily want the public to know how much they spend on travel
- For competitive reasons, presumably United doesn’t want their competitors knowing the details of their contracts
So there’s an interesting update on this front. Apparently the details of some corporate contracts have been pretty widely shared with United employees over the past several months, including by emails, newsletters, and banners.
The intention here was apparently to make United employees go the extra mile to take care of Apple employees (and other corporate clients), as I’m told the companies are entering contract renewal talks.
For example, here’s one of those emails that United’s chief pilot sent to pilots over the holidays (the first part is from the chief pilot, the second part is a note from the United employee who manages the Apple account):
My fellow pilots,
Thank you for your professionalism. Every day, you are making a difference in our operation that will improve the traveling experience for our passengers. Your performance is helping other departments at United as they work to increase the number of corporate customers and their satisfaction. These corporate customers are highly coveted by all airlines; consequently, their retention and acquisition are a top priority as we work to defeat our competitors in this highly competitive market. Recently, I received the following letter from Senior Manager of Global Corporate Accounts Jonathan Harris, who is responsible for managing our Apple account. Jonathan is very appreciative for your ongoing recognition of our Apple Global Services customers on our flights to Asia and has asked that I pass this message along:
Dear pilot colleagues,
I want to pass along my appreciation and thanks for your teamwork in support of Apple, our largest global corporate customer. Your professionalism and dedication to enhancing the customer service experience for Apple Global Services customers by hand-delivering personalized ‘thank you’ cards helps us compete and win against the foreign flag carriers especially in the very competitive US-Asia market.
As we enter into another 3-year contract renewal negotiation this coming January with Apple, your partnership is key in demonstrating to Apple how United differentiates itself from the competition. Overall, Apple continues to grow revenue on United more than 20 percent annually and keeping them happy while traveling on United is critical to the success of many of our SFO routes. Thanks again for going above and beyond, your efforts make a positive impact to the strong and growing partnership between Apple and United.
Wishing you and your family a very happy and safe holiday season,
Now United has sent the following email to their corporate account customers:
Dear valued customers,
As you may already be aware, some confidential high-level revenue information for about a dozen global corporate accounts in the San Francisco area was leaked via Twitter on Friday afternoon and has been picked-up on a variety of other media and social media channels.
This information was provided to United employees as part of a pilot project focused on San Francisco to highlight the importance of our corporate relationships and was not intended to be shared publicly. The project has since been discontinued.
The small number of accounts mentioned by name on this material have already been contacted directly by United. The material has been taken down and moving forward we will review and further restrict sharing of account information to a strictly need to know audience.
I guess it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but the reason that United had these banners in the first place was to educate employees on the importance of corporate contracts. The intent behind that is great, though obviously the balance of maintaining confidentiality while still stressing the importance of these contracts is tough.
It is interesting that United has specifically encouraged employees to take care of Apple Global Services customers. It makes me wonder if in addition to the status, United also has some sort of designator on the manifest if someone is an Apple employee.
So the concept of educating employees on this seems really well intentioned, though nowadays there are no such things as secrets anymore, so it got out, and unfortunately they’ve ended the program since.