By now, people around the world have either seen or heard about the recent viral video of authorities dragging a passenger off a United Airlines flight. The passenger wasn’t being unruly (until authorities began man handling him). He wasn’t breaking the law. He was the victim of a computer algorithm that “randomly” selected him to leave the plane. The airline needed four seats to fly crew members to a destination where they had to work the next day. Only three passengers volunteered their seats. United needed one more. They chose to handle it by pulling a passenger off the flight kicking and screaming (literally). Needless to say, it was handled badly, and United is already paying for it.
How can your financial institution avoid a brand scandal of this magnitude?
A financial institution’s failure to plan adequately is not the customer’s problem. It shouldn’t be anyway. United not having enough seats for its scheduled employees is about the equivalent of a financial institution not having enough money to accommodate withdrawals. It should never happen. Whatever contingencies you have in place for such a time should focus on inconveniencing the financial institution – not the customer or member.
Understand the situation before you comment on it
United CEO Oscar Munoz did the right thing by publicly apologizing the following day for the way the airline handled the situation. Where he failed was writing a letter telling employees the exact opposite. He applauded them for following procedures and handling a “disruptive and belligerent” passenger.
Clearly, Mr. Munoz did not understand why the passenger was belligerent until after he saw the viral video. And newsflash to Mr. Munoz: Nothing in writing is guaranteed to remain confidential, especially when you send it to thousands of employees who may not agree with your stance. While the CEO changed his attitude after the video went viral, it was too late. His credibility was already in question and so was the airline’s integrity.
Always apologize when your financial institution makes a mistake. Do not, however, put in writing words that will come back to haunt you because you failed to understand the full scope of the scandal before you spoke.
Train and empower employees to make better decisions
I don’t know the value of the voucher offered to the three passengers who voluntarily gave up their seats, but I’m willing to bet a fourth person would have come forward for the right price. The same holds true for your customers or members. Offer a valuable solution when a problem arises, even if you have to be creative or lose a little bit of money.
Even $1,000 or more would have cost the airline less than it stands to lose from this scandal. Stock prices dropped relatively quickly, and United typically doesn’t have the cheapest rates to begin with. Customers won’t have a hard time choosing another airline that doesn’t bully its passengers.
Most likely, United will recover from this scandal eventually. The question is, how much will it lose in the meantime for a situation that could have been avoided with better planning, communication and decision making?