Three Lessons From the United Airlines Fiasco On How to Manage a PR Crisis

By Simon Mainwaring Reading Time: 3 minutes

Last week, the Internet and social media exploded with criticism of United Airlines for forcefully removing a 69-year old Dr. David Dao from United Express Flight 3411. Passengers captured the entire episode on smartphones and the videos went viral. Irate consumers vowed to boycott the airline, the unfortunate passenger is pressing charges and a problem that could have been solved with a diplomatic solution has turned into a public relations nightmare.

In today’s world, widespread adoption of smartphones and social media has changed the relationship between brands and consumers. What used to be a monologue is now a dialog. In other words, consumers now have the power to shape brand storytelling by advocating for or protesting against brands, and they can share their opinions with hundreds, if not thousands, of friends online who can then use their own networks to further spread the word. This new media landscape makes it nearly impossible for brands to cover-up controversial information and demands authenticity, accountability, and transparency. Now more than ever, it’s critical to maintain a positive brand image to avoid public relations crisis.

Here are three ways to avoid a public relations crisis:

1. Ensure profits don’t jeopardize company values: It goes without saying that customer service is vital to any successful business; however, what happens when user experience is at odds with the bottom line?

To maximize occupancy and profits, airlines often overbook flights with the expectation that some passengers won’t show up. Similarly, as was the case on Flight 3411, carriers will move flight attendants to a different location so they can work their next shift. Last week, United removed Dr. Dao to ensure crew members made their connection; otherwise the next flight would have been canceled.

In essence, the company’s desire to cut costs outweighed its dedication to customer service. In the end, the incident ended up costing the company far more money than finding an alternative solution, displayed poor customer service and tarnished the brand.

The key takeaway here is that you must prioritize purposeful values over short-term profits, which will strengthen consumer loyalty, improve reputation and lay the foundation for a successful business in the long run. What’s more, it is important to establish policies that cover unlikely but difficult to handle situations, and have a dynamic yet flexible playbook that employees can reference when they’re unsure of what to do.

2. Immediately take responsibility for actions: After the incident, the company’s CEO Oscar Munoz wrote a letter in which he admonished Dr. Dao for his “defiance of both our crew and security officials.”

After fielding increasing numbers of complaints from consumers and the media, Munoz changed his stance. Instead of defending the airline, Munoz took “full responsibility” for the actions, promised to review and revise company policy and vowed that this would never happen again.

Although he eventually admitted wrongdoing and changed company policy, Munoz originally responded with defiance, which fanned the flames of consumer furry.

The lesson here is that if a crisis situation does arise it is Go to the full article.

Source:: Simon Mainwaring – We First

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