5 Important Lessons Businesses Can Learn From United Airlines’ PR Woes

Ah yes, oh yes.  The United Airlines debacle.

Days after the viral man-dragging incident, United Airlines has faced a business crisis seemingly larger than all of their aircrafts combined — and with nearly a $1 billion loss in value immediately after, to boot. In short, United Airlines’ publicity disaster may go down as one of history’s worsts.

In case you haven’t heard about it yet, here’s a quick recap of what went down:

According to United Airlines, they needed to board four crew members on the 3411 Chicago-Louisville flight otherwise, another flight leaving from Louisville will be cancelled. United asked for four customers to volunteer their seats for $400 each. When no one complied, they raised it up to $800. When still no one complied, they picked four customers at random to de-board. Three others complied, but the fourth one, a doctor, replied that he cannot leave, as he had patients back home needing treatment. This resulted to that doctor being dragged away by a police officer. He lost his seat, a couple of teeth, some blood — and the whole thing was shared and watched millions of times in a matter of hours on social media.

And the rest was (a PR nightmare) history.

And so what can businesses learn from this 1-billion dollar conundrum? We’ve compiled five important lessons that are valuable to businesses on land, air, and sea.

1. Check and re-check (and re-re-check) your policies

What transpired in flight 3411 wasn’t because employees acted on their own discretion. According to United Airlines’ CEO Oscar Munoz, the employees followed company policies. Hence, if such a colossal problem arose from employees following the company’s policies, then the policies need to be checked and corrected.

It’s not a bad idea to check your company’s policies. Create a team who will be in charge of checking each policy, both old and new, to see what kind of possible problems can arise from each.

From the simplest to the most unthinkable possible complications or worst-case scenarios, persuade your team to get creative and think. From there, you can decide whether such a policy needs tweaking or redoing altogether.

Contingency plans arise from such exercises, and it’s never a bad idea to be overly careful and prepared — United Airlines may not have been, but it’s no reason for you not to be.

5 Important Lessons Businesses Can Learn From United Airlines' PR Woes - Love your Customers
2. Love your customers

Okay, so the customer may not always be right, but the customer is still the lifeblood of your business. Hence, you must take good care of all of them. And that means not holding them by the feet to drag them off of their seats.

Granted, United really needed those seats for their crew, and they really had no other choice but to take their customers’ seats — but the manner in which this was carried out? Not very loving.

Always ask yourself — will my company’s actions warrant customer satisfaction and loyalty? Or will this cause me (billions of) dollars down the drain plus being the center of the whole world’s ire.

Caring sincerely for your client’s satisfaction and comfort while providing great service create legions of patrons who will love you back. And for those customers who do adore you, and especially to those who don’t, this next lesson should always be ingrained in your heart and mind:

3. Always act as if all eyes are on you.

In today’s digital age, knowing your company’s every move is as easy as uploading a video of a man being dragged off inside one of your planes for the world to see. Or easier.

So it’s incredibly important that you understand that you are always under public scrutiny. The good and bad that you do are easily discoverable online. So before you act, or ask your employees to  act a certain way, think about it first. Are there repercussions? What would be the possible outcome?

With billions of people with access to internet nowadays, it’s safe to say that your actions or reactions will be recorded, shared, analyzed and memefied with just a few clicks. So be careful.


4. Educate EVERYONE in your company about their responsibilities

Whoever wears your company’s logo on their uniform, makes big company decisions, answers Twitter messages on your behalf, greets customers in your store — and everyone in between — should be knowledgeable of their responsibilities to the company.

All your employees should fully understand the things that are important to your company and its unique culture and they should be able to deliver consistently.

You cannot have eyes on each and everyone of your employees, however, a great amount of people will always have a smartphone ready to record and document a nasty experience they’ve had on one of your people. The only way to win here is to educate and constantly remind your employees to be responsible team players. Remember, good people make a good brand.

5. Apologize and mean it (by making up for it).

You always aim for perfection. It may even be your business standard. But despite your high service standards, you make mistakes. Sometimes, they’re ginormous. And in such situations, you need to admit what you did wrong and apologize.

An awful mistake will not get corrected by publicly defending your actions and referring to it as a “re-accommodation”. Downplaying won’t do you or your company any good — especially if you have billions of witnesses online.

Man up, be sincere, and make up for your mistake. In the case of United, what they could have done was to offer a larger monetary reward for those who would be willing to sacrifice their seats. So say, they had to cough up $5,000 per seat. $20,000 doesn’t seem too steep now, considering they have a $1 billion dollar loss after this man-dragging incident, now does it? The headlines would have been way different had they gone this route.

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