Learning from others’ mistakes

Toyota’s cars accelerated accidentally. Volkswagen cheated on emissions tests. protest signApple’s phones bent, while Samsung’s exploded.

With the exception of Samsung, these debacles have all been largely forgotten, thanks to time and supplemented marketing budgets.

Stocks and sales have all recovered nicely. While we hope they’ve learned something, business at these companies has largely gone back to normal.

Joining this select group recently was United. Their invitation for the Chicago police to be their public relations representatives on an overbooked flight didn’t go unnoticed.

The video of Dr. David Dao being dragged off the flight was seen by millions around the world. The airline did give him an upgrade, though, with a free broken nose, concussion and removal of two teeth that this passenger hadn’t even requested.

What, no peanuts?

Dao was one of four customers who were “voluntold” to give up their seat after refusing an offer of $800 apiece. He obviously wanted to be on that flight and the criteria for choosing him is unclear. However, it could have legitimately included him purchasing a discounted seat or not having enough frequent flier miles.

Those four seats were given to crewmembers needed in Louisville (325 miles away) for another flight. Apparently renting a car wasn’t an option for those employees.

The airline’s since settled with Dr. Dao, rather than getting dragged into court. They’ll also now offer up to $10,000 for volunteers relinquishing their seats.

But their reputation as “The Friendly Skies” airline is shot.

Meanwhile, Southwest has stopped overbooking their flights, learning from United’s mistakes.

On April 9 United clearly broadcast that their employees matter more than paying customers do.

They simultaneously provided these lessons for the rest of us:

With video cameras everyplace, nothing is secret anymore

Your reputation can be damaged in an instant

Customers don’t care what your problems are. Anyone with a business can adopt these lessons to improve service, sales and profits by not promising more than can be delivered. If you do over-promise, handle it delicately. Finally, trying to shift your problems to customers guarantees you’ll lose business and reputation.

The immediate issue may go away, but is sure to be replaced by bigger headaches.

United has (hopefully) learned that. You should also learn from its screw-up.

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THIS is the right way to treat customers!