By now you’re probably aware of the situation: United airlines asked people to volunteer to take another flight Sunday because one from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky was over-booked and some United employees “needed to get to Louisville.”
When not enough people volunteered, United personnel started involuntarily choosing people. And when one man “selected” to deplane refused to give up his seat, they called security and physically dragged him off the plane. (The footage is shocking.)
How STUPID was that? It’s another example, albeit an extreme one, of brands’ shortsighted thinking in dealing with customers.
The damage to the brand will be significant and potentially be in the millions of dollars, in terms of negative PR and lost bookings. There will also likely be a lawsuit by the guy dragged off the plane and a settlement resulting in a payout and creating another opportunity for more bad press — reminding people of bad United customer service. It will take years to correct this perception.
Even though United, from a technical-legal standpoint, may have been within its rights to do this — what a colossally stupid idea. It resulted from lower-level personnel not thinking about how customer service (the lack thereof in the extreme) or their own behaviors impact the entire organization and the brand.
With more foresight and thought, United could have compensated these people or created incentives that would have resulted in a sufficient number of volunteers getting off the plane, avoiding the incident. Even if they had paid thousands of dollars it would have been a bargain compared to what they’ll incur now in:
- Lost bookings
- PR crisis management
- Legal fees and settlement costs
- Further negative press (and potential Congressional testimony)
- Other compensation to the people on the flight who witnessed the incident
How does this continue to happen?
Graphic: Brad Petersen