What Brands Can Learn from the United Airlines Scandal

Hey, United – Broken Noses do NOT equal Great Customer Service. Common sense and customer service were anything but apparent in the United Airlines scandal of recent weeks. Layers upon layers of the “wrong things to do” surfaced in response to the incident after United Airlines forcibly removed a passenger from an overbooked flight, and video of the event hit the social media grapevine.

To kick things off, in an email to his employees, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz faulted the now well-known passenger David Dao (69-year-old Kentucky physician) as being “disruptive and belligerent,” being of course United’s way of saying “he wouldn’t do exactly what we asked when we asked him.” The solution to this problem was excruciatingly straightforward and obvious, though perhaps not to an MBA like Munoz. Offer the base price for a volunteer (which they did) and then when no one responds, increase the offer by $100 every 30 seconds. There will be a price point at which someone will say yes. Let’s say that the final accepted price is $2000. For $1,400 they would have avoided a major PR hit (likely in the hundreds of millions). Don’t they teach economics to MBA’s anymore? Apparently, they practice proper “non-apology” skills though.

What are brands saying about how they value their customers when they are seemingly so concerned with and driven by revenue and profit goals  – so much so that they lose sight of the very people who got them there in the first place – loyal customers. The one who picks your brand among the many others in today’s hyper-choice marketplace. The one who pens an excellent review. The one who recommends your product or service to a friend. The one who has moved beyond steadfast loyalist and is now a staunch advocate, singing your praises to all who will listen. In this equation, there is no room for wanton disregard, confrontation, or abuse for that matter (physical or otherwise). With the new distracted, fickle and connected customer of today, you need to be throwing rose petals at their feet as they exit a bad experience with your brand. Not refusing to apologize or bashing them in the head!

I’m guessing Pepsi is probably secretly thanking United for taking the social media hot seat after the Kendall Jenner ad debacle I wrote about in last week’s Mashup. United’s customer mistreatment is immense, brand damaging, and harmful to business results… and it isn’t going away anytime soon – the memes have gone viral, #BoycottUnited has over 3.5 million impressions on Twitter, and of course, SNL is developing side-splitting skits to take the edge off an otherwise dark and dreary state of play.

So what do you think, should Oscar Munoz get his $500,000 ‘Customer Satisfaction Bonus’ this year? #beatsme

Michael Chase, CMO
St. Joseph Communications


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