Learning from Your Mistakes (United Edition)

In the end, United (finally) got it right. But only after days of excruciatingly bad publicity. Were its belated positive actions too little and too late to repair its image?

United’s floundering also provided a case study of what not to do, and ultimately what to do.

Initial statements are just that — initial. But they are critical. They set the tone for everything that follows. If they’re empathetic and reassuring, they achieve your goal. If they’re cold and clumsy, that’s the perception you’ll be stuck with.

After that, companies need to dig deep and do some heavy lifting to regain the public’s trust.

Step One: Take a serious look at the organization. Ask yourself, “How did we end up here?”

United stuck too strictly to rules and protocol. Their crew treated passengers like cattle instead of customers, and they didn’t think how the treatment of that person greatly impacted those around him. Then United churned out initial statements that were callous and emotionless.

Step Two: Strategize ways to improve and protect against future lapses.

The changes United made weren’t all directly customer-facing. United’s Board started at the top by declaring that CEO Oscar Munoz isn’t the best choice to become Chairman after all. The Board also changed how it pays senior executives by “directly and meaningfully” linking compensation to customer service.

Step Three: Implement necessary changes — and make sure everyone obeys them.

Some seemed shockingly obvious. For example, once you’ve got your butt in the seat, you won’t be forced to relinquish it (except for safety or security reasons).

Others embrace technology. For example, United is creating an automated check-in where you can let it be known if you’re willing to be bumped —and at what price.

Yet others are competitive, such as raising the maximum payout for being bumped to $10,000, which is $50 more than the new cap instituted by Delta.

Step Four: Focus on the future. Keep improving, build up a bank of goodwill, and don’t let anything similar happen again. If you mess up once, people have a surprisingly large capacity to forgive. Do it twice, and they don’t.

You don’t have to explicitly state it, but Munoz opted to, “We are taking concrete, meaningful action to make things right and ensure nothing like this ever happens again.”


To celebrate the launch of our two books, we’ve made the Kindle version of each available for only $0.99! Check out  A Board Member’s Guide to Crisis PR and A Lawyer’s Guide to Crisis PR (Second Edition) on Amazon.

“Because Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset”

Gillott Communications is a Strategic PR firm. We’re Fixers. Crisis & Reputation Management. Litigation. Media Relations. Crisis Prep. More than half a century of expertise working with clients to resolve issues both in and outside the media’s glare — in their professional and personal lives.

You can reach Roger Gillott and Eden Gillott Bowe directly at 310-396-8696.

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Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net


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