United Airlines builds reputation by taking care of customer

Sisyphus

Sisyphus by Andrew Allingham
(aallingh on Flickr)

Building an organization’s reputation is an uphill, Sisyphean task for four reasons.

  1. We create reputations one experience at a time.  As your stakeholders (customers, employees, neighbors, shareholders, and others important to you) interact with your organization, each experience, good or bad, shapes how they feel and think about you.
  2. The most recent experience is most relevant to them.  “What have you done for me lately?” tends to trump all other questions.
  3. The strongest emotions make the biggest impact (no surprise there) and elicit the strongest, most vocal feedback.
  4. It’s much easier to drive negative feedback than positive feedback.  Although we all have experiences that generate positive and negative emotional responses every day, it seems that our society has programmed us to react more vocally to the negative experiences; think of all the reader and viewer comments expressing righteous indignation in response to a news article about a company that has treated a customer poorly.

We see negative stories and the accompanying outrage many times every day.  How many times do we see the opposite?  How often do we see examples of companies doing the right thing?  Unfortunately, not nearly as frequently, probably because our news production and consumption machine is programed to focus on the negative.

Here’s a great example of when a positive story takes on a life of its own and helps to amplify the great service shown to one customer into a positive experience (albeit by proxy) for many others:

Travel writer Christopher Elliott tells the story of how United Airlines held a plane so a passenger could make it home in time to see his mother before she passed away.  In a nutshell, Kerry Drake was not going to make his connecting flight in Houston to get home to Lubbock, Texas.  United flight attendants, gate agents, and pilots took ownership of the problem and ended up holding a plane in Houston so he could make the flight.  This undoubtedly hurt somebody’s performance metrics, because gate agents and flight crews are graded for on-time gate departure and takeoff, but it was the right thing for them to do.  And, as it turned out, it was a good thing for the company, too.  Mr. Elliott’s story was picked up by CNN and other media, earning praise for United and increasing the likelihood that customers will favor them when choosing a carrier for future trips.

Takeaway lesson:  Empower employees to make make things right, even when it hurts performance metrics.  It’s a strategic imperative, because your reputation will benefit and so will your bottom line.

What do you think?

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Good News, Reputation Management, Working in Communications

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