12 things retailers can learn from the United Airlines PR disaster

We’re not happy until you’re not happy!

I heard this line used by a business analyst when discussing a new possible new slogan for United Airlines. It baffles me how supposed smart people can make such dumb mistakes. The default explanation by the CEO of United was that had to “Re-accommodate” four passengers to reposition a blight crew, they were following company policy. This was a classic case of making a bad situation worse. We can disagree about who was a fault the passenger or airline, but there is no question that United Airline had the ability to take control of the message and mitigate the damage.

Business Schools and Public Relation Firms will be using this as a primer on how not to respond to a PR crisis. So what are the takeaways that would apply to any business especially a retail business?

  1. Admit your mistake and apologize – clearly and concisely with no buts
  2. Recognize that in this digitally enabled age everything goes viral
  3. Companies polices should be guidelines not hard and fast rules
  4. Empower your people to use common sense when confronted with problem customer
  5. Win the war not the battle- it’s OK to try to mollify a problem customer
  6. The customer is not always right but when their wrong handle with caution
  7. Learn a lesson from our current President- Be preemptive and post online how your people resolved a customer’s problem or at least tried to resolve it.
  8. You can’t control what people post online but you can respond
  9. Discuss the situation with your salespeople as a learning tool
  10. Every interaction with a customer either enhances or diminishes your relations with them
  11. The relationship you have with your customers is an at will relationship. The customer determines how long it will last and when it will end.
  12. Retaining existing customers is 3 to 5 times less expensive than acquiring new customers