United abuses customers. And then defends it. A lesson in faulty leadership.

by Jen Gluckow


United Airlines forcibly removed a paying passenger to accommodate airline employees who needed to get to the same destination.Since almost everyone now walks around with a video camera in their pocket, this event, handled in a most shockingly and disturbing fashion, has been filmed and gone viral on social media.

Unless youre living under a rock, you must have seen the video or at least read the articles or heard the story. What did you think about it? What would you have done if you were a UA employee? What would you have said if you were the CEO?

Heres their reality: United managed to take a bad situation (overselling the flight and unable to get pay for volunteers to change flights), made it worse (forcibly removed a passenger with assault from Chicago cops), and then made it even worse (stupid, feeble CEO apology). The CEO had the opportunity to apologize and make a stride towards improvement, but he made the situation even worse with his blaming, spinning, lackluster, disingenuous, self-serving, ignorant apology.

10 years ago, this kind of situation may have gone almost unnoticed. Maybe it would have gotten a write up in the local paper. But with the prevalence of social media and smart phones, it went viral within minutes.

The lesson and strategies YOU can think about, use, comment on or repost.

  1. The Golden Rule applied: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Let me make that even simpler: be nice. Be nice to people no matter what. Dragging someone off a plane is just not nice or humane! #JustASpoonFullOfSugar.
  2. Fess up if you screw up. Take ownership and responsibility. Whatever you do, do not blame the customer.
  3. Tell the truth. Its that plain and simple. Truth will win every time.
  4. Dont tell me what youre going to do in YOUR company tell me what youre going to do for your CUSTOMER. If Im an upset customer, do you think I really care about how youre going to change your policies or procedures? Customers care about themselves so tell me how youre going to help me and make things right by me not how youll help future customers.
  5. Dont defend mistakes. Quoting antiquated and self-serving policy in the face of an egregious error only makes it worse.
  6. Think long-term. With every policy you put in place and action you take, ask yourself: Does this create a long term relationship? Dragging a customer off a plane certainly does not.

Heres what to do AFTER a service situation occurs that will get your customers talking and posting and sharing (in a positive way):

  1. Know what really happened. PAY ATTENTION to customer feelings, not just your actions. Listen to the complaint. Let the customer express their frustration. Hear them out.
  2. LOOK THEM IN THE EYE AND APOLOGIZE for the error and make sure the customer knows you understand the problem. While in this case, the CEO may not have been able to look the passenger in the eye, he could have created a video message apologizing with sincerity.
  3. Take RESPONSIBILITY. Dont blame the sales process, dont blame the policy, dont blame the customer. Own it and take responsibility. Deal with internal issues privately. (See step 8)
  4. Respond IMMEDIATELY and prioritize making uber amends. Fixing a service issue gone wrong will pay for itself if you go the extra mile.
  5. THANK the customer for informing you of the problem. They just did you a favor by alerting you to something that may be a grossly overlooked company issue. Its much easier for them to leave silently, discontinue service, and write a horrible public review.
  6. FIX IT. Give the client exactly what they originally wanted. If that solution is unavailable, keep offering options until you find something agreeable.
  7. Go above and beyond to ensure the client feels you appreciate their inconvenience and, in some cases, financial loss. Do something thoughtful, unexpected, and memorable.
  8. PRIVATELY Deal with internal issues that could cause a similar event in the future. Develop any needed protocol and shift responsibilities if necessary.

The United Airlines CEO had a massive opportunity to show strength through leadership and recovery. HE DID NEITHER, and in my opinion should be fired. By offering an insincere apology, and blaming the customer, he angered people even further and gave people a bigger reason to make social media jokes.

Providing superior customer service is one of the few controllable variables in your business. #JeninaNYminute #customerservicerules


Providing superior customer service is one of the few controllable variables in your business. You may not be able to control what caused the mistake, but you can totally control how you respond. The companies with fast, helpful and, courteous response time and the ability to fix a mistake beyond the expectations of the customer, can gain an edge over companies ten times their size, especially in reputation, goodwill, and customer retention.

As you can see by this example, by doing the right thing youll avoid an Internet firestorm that has so far cost United Airlines millions.

See also: Wells Fargo


2017 Jennifer Gluckow and Sales in a New York Minute
www.SALESinaNYminute.com Jen@SALESinaNYminute.com

With co-host Jeffrey Gitomer, we bring in top sales professionals to give you the best advice to kick your own ass.