There’s little debate, we have a runaway winner for the title of Greatest Corporate PR Disaster of 2017! In a year full of them, Uber, Wells Fargo, Pepsi, Volkswagen – as bungled as they all were – they all take a back (row) seat to United Airlines. Social media and news outlets everywhere lit up with outrage and brand damaging chatter when video of a passenger being dragged off a plane by police went viral. The clip here from CNN briefly sums up what happened —-> After that video surfaced the internet jumped on what one crisis consultant called the “Hindenburg of airline customer service episodes”. It got exponentially worse as United committed one communication gaffe after another. Here are just a FEW of the self-inflicted wounds caused by their poor media/PR decisions
A lack of empathy – even if your brand isn’t at fault, apologize or at least show empathy or frustration for the bad customer experience. United did neither on any of its channels to mitigate the crisis by displaying just an ounce of caring! Twitter would have been a good place to start- that’s where the customer outrage went viral!
Played the victim blame game – In their first failed attempt at crisis control United released a statement meekly apologizing to passengers for having to “Re-Accommodate” some of them. The internet went berserk! As in ” #UnitedAirlines, We put the hospital in hospitality! “
They Doubled Down – Then a day later, in an attempt to assuage employees, United CEO Oscar Munoz sent an in-house letter (which was leaked quickly) calling the man who was dragged off the plane “belligerent” and “disruptive” in an attempt to actually justify their actions. Not only did they double down by blaming the customer, even if it is someone else’s fault – pointing the finger is never a good look. The internet crushed United again! The PR damage done to the brand will stick around for some time over a mere $800 (or what could have been slightly more) voucher. How much is your brand’s reputation worth?
No customer focus, no action taken – never make it about yourself (remember the BP CEO after the spill in the Gulf of Mexico who wanted “his life back”?) The first 24 hours of any crisis are the most critical for any brand and the most important steps and tactics are your first words or tweets. Take responsibility, own it, apologize and provide information on your actions going forward to prevent such an incident from occurring again. You can even invite the public to hold you to those promises.
United, on their third try, three days later, finally got it right. When you are in a hole, STOP DIGGING!
In a crisis situation, we say it’s best follow your values, not your instincts – that approach will help you navigate your brand out of turbulent skies! It also pays to have professional help (*** Shameless plug, thanks United! ***) we’ve seen this kind of PR nightmare happen too many times, why wait until disaster unexpectedly strikes?
Let FRMediaTrain help, we GUARANTEE you’ll be more prepared than the “Friendly Skies” were!