What To Learn From The United Airlines Craziness
by Josh Amidon
At the beginning of last week, I imagine Pepsi Corp. was crying into their half pint complaining how they’ve received the worst PR in 2017 – at which point, United Airlines stumbled off their airport barstool and confidently said “hold my beer, watch this.” Millions have now watched videos of Dr. David Dao being brutally dragged off the plane to make room for United employees. United has been reduced to nothing but a punch line for talk show hosts, comedians and local marketing professionals trying to be funny in company blogs.
Dr. Dao’s frequent flyer bonus was a broken nose, concussion, and two missing teeth. Not exactly “flying the friendly skies.” I’m willing to bet that tagline is dead for the foreseeable future.
If you follow the stock market, you’ve noticed since the incident, United has lost about $1 billion in market value. Bad PR can be devastating to a company. Here are some lessons you can learn from United’s massive blunder.
Company-focused instead of customer-focused. The disaster began for United when they publicly prioritized employees over customers. The company forgot their primary reason for being is to serve customers, not their own needs. Now, there is an argument to be made that by inconveniencing a few passengers, they were able to get a whole crew to another airport on-time to serve an airplane full of customers. That argument goes out the window when you realize United has been purposely over booking flights for decades because they know they can get away with making 5-7 people angry every flight or so.
Sometimes silence is golden. United CEO Oscar Muñoz first praised his team for properly following protocol. Then he “regretted” that prior statement but felt his company was still in the right. Then he admitted his company was wrong, but the incident wouldn’t have happened if the passenger wasn’t "disruptive" and "belligerent." FINALLY, after 48-72 hours the CEO of United admitted his company was “100% incorrect” and “nothing like this will ever happen on a Untied flight again.” The problem was, not a single person believed his last statement — he already made 4 statements before.
You can ask my fiancé – every time this man opened his mouth I yelled at the TV “shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up – you’re making it soooo much worse!” If you don’t know what to say or aren’t equipped to defuse a situation, you should never talk to the press or public. This is a perfect reason why. You could and mostly likely will make the situation much worse.
And just because I don’t like giving you negative without at least a little positive – I have another story from the airline industry last week that highlights how good customer service can also go viral.
It began when 19 year old went to Twitter and started to direct message Southwest Airlines to let them know of a (fake) complaint that happened on his flight. It all started innocent enough, but the ending is how every brand should interact with their customers.
The SW agent, Linnea, seems genuinely concerned and asks for the abusive flight attendant's name. Poor Linnea.
This was the opening the 19-year-old complainant needed, and up went a photo of Britney Spears from the "Toxic" video shoot. Notice that his complaint was also directly taken from Britney’s behavior in the video too.
Having just wasted her time and energy, Linnea had every right to be upset. But she wasn’t, and she handled the internet troll with one line.
Linnea is savage.
After the story started to go viral, Southwest Airlines didn’t stop there. They posted this on their official Twitter page.
There you have it, as you build your own business, team or organization – embrace the lessons each of these airlines taught you last week. You’ll not only avoid a crash landing in the world of PR, but enjoy high-altitude success as a result.
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (315) 258-8780 to discuss anything marketing/PR related.