We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. Accept | Find out more


Just Say ‘No’ to Saying ‘No’

Kiyomi Ohta finds options for customers

Author Pete Rapalus


Our Tokyo-Narita customer service team earns more than its share of accolades. Among our agents there, Kiyomi Ohta has the admiration and respect of her peers, who cite and look up to her friendly and gracious handling of our most discriminating customers.

Ohta takes care of our Global Services customers, as well as other frequent travelers, from curb to jetway, helping them check in and make transfers and assisting them in the United Club and Global First Lounge at Narita.

Before taking the airport-based position, she spent five years as an international services representative, a position that combined elements of flight attendant, interpreter and ambassador for Japanese culture.

Her basic philosophy of customer service has not changed much, even though she’s transitioned from a spending hours at a time in a confined space with a small group of customers to juggling hundreds of customers for shorter periods of time in the sprawling, bustling airport.

“Usually, customers are either asking for something simple that we can easily provide,” she says, “or they’re looking for an answer or a solution to something not as routine. In those cases, too many times it would be easy to just say ‘no’ and move on to the next problem. What I try to do is offer some alternatives, at least, and give them choices if possible.”

That attitude has generated a thick file of compliments. One of our most-traveled road warriors called Ohta and her colleagues “the best in the world” in a recent letter, and a more infrequent traveler praised Ohta’s manner and bearing for providing a diversion and helping the customer overcome a language barrier and unfamiliarity with the surroundings.

Ohta’s performance during that latter incident warranted a United 100 nomination penned by her supervisor, Hub Terminal Operations Manager Kaoru Imoarai.

“One of the most important qualities about Kiyomi is that she is sincere,” Imoarai says. “We don’t like to have to say we’re sorry to customers, but sometimes we have to, and when Kiyomi says it, you know that she means it, and that she takes it personally. It’s something she has naturally—the ability to be so professional and sincere—and it helps make her so good at the job. She’s always thinking about how to provide better service for our customers.”

Ohta worked in banking until she became entranced by the idea of working for United—as much for the variety of work each day as for the travel to far-off places, she says. “The operation may look the same every day—we have flights to these places, and the same flights to the same places the next day—but the customers are different, and because of that, the service will be different. So it never, ever gets boring or tedious.”

No matter how many customers she helps in a typical day, even if it’s for only a minute or two, Ohta knows that any interaction with a United employee potentially can mean the difference between lifetime loyalty and embargo.
“This work can be more challenging because of the shorter time I have to make an impression on the customer,” Ohta says. “I might have 12 hours on a long-haul flight to impress customers; here, I may have just a couple of minutes, so I need to make the most of it and stay positive. What I need to do is use that time, however brief, to put a smile on that customer’s face.”

One Response to “Just Say ‘No’ to Saying ‘No’”

  1. Ann Suen Says:
    September 15th, 2015 at 7:25 pm

    I recently retired from United, after working for 34 years in sales (ticket office and reservations). It is refreshing to read about Kiyomi Ohta's outstanding customer service and positive ("yes! can do") work ethic. Having worked with our Global Services guests myself, I know how important the employee's attitude and professionalism in servicing our customers. Thank you to Kiyomi for "making a difference"!!

Leave your comments