Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

Companies are constantly surveying customers to see what those customers really think.

It's a little like a lover who keeps saying Do You Love Me? over and over again.

In the airline world, it's no different and the most important metric to many airline executives is the Likelihood To Recommend score.

You've seen it on so many surveys.

How likely are you to recommend this product or service to your friends?

American Airlines is concerned its passengers aren't recommending its service enough.

In a recent edition of American Airlines' Tell Me Why series, Kurt Stache, the airline's Senior Vice President of Sales, Marketing, and Loyalty, mused about customers' feelings.

He believes the airline is striving to deliver what it calls "a living room experience" on its planes.

Perhaps, like you, I like cuddling up to my nearest and dearest in the living room.

However, when I'm flying on a cramped, single-aisle plane, I'm less enamored of strangers cuddling up to me. Too soon, surely.

Stache said: 

Our customers have lots of options when they fly.

This isn't strictly true. Often, there are very few choices. 

Still, Stache said American surveys 1 million customers and the Likelihood To Recommend scores have been rising since its merger with US Airways. That was six years ago.

One aspect he seems to have skated over is that the airline's scores declined appreciably between January this year and last.

However, he confessed: 

The biggest impact on LTR is dependability, so there's a 20 percent decline in LTR scores when an airplane arrives late.

He promised, therefore, that the airline would have a "significant focus in 2019 on running a more dependable airline."

It's an interesting, and slightly brittle, logic.

The LTR score encompasses all parts of American's service. Moreover, the airline's one admitted obsession has been ensuring planes leave on time.

Even if it means upgrades aren't processed and even if it means First Class passengers don't get their pre-departure tincture.

CEO Doug Parker has been very open that he doesn't see customer service having the same level of importance as leaving on time.

Yet if that is your primary focus and you're not even delivering on that, is it surprising that other parts of your service -- which may seem a touch neglected -- are held in lesser regard by your customers?

American has suffered from troubled labor relations, even though its staff are by no means the worst paid.

There's something a touch awry at the core.

And then Stache struck on the crux:

It's a long time since we had a brand purpose and a brand campaign.

This is true. The last one I remember instructed passengers to behave better. Seriously.

Stache confessed the airline is busily talking to staff in an attempt to discover what this brand purpose should be.

Which might have some reaching for words like why, how, is, this and possible.

It's stunning to admit you don't know what your brand purpose is or should be.

Isn't that the starting point of so many businesses, one that they continually refine? 

In a tough business, some might think management ought already to know a lot about what it wants its brand to be and how it should makes customers feel.

Passengers, employees and new recruits would surely all be shocked to hear American doesn't have one.

Employees need an emotional banner to fly. Passengers, too, want to be able to recommend brands they truly feel good about.

When I hear from readers, I don't exactly hear laudatory sentiments about the sheer perfection of American Airlines' brand or service.

Generally, it's simply viewed as a big airline with lots of connections and little warmth.

Brands like that can succeed. If they're ruthlessly efficient, that is.

But if you're not even delivering on efficiency -- weather and other factors can bedevil that -- you surely should have something else to rely on.

Other than that you got them to their destination.

Perhaps what American needs to do is consider what its own destination should be and what it should feel like getting there.

Published on: May 4, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.