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Man’s best friend has had a difficult time traveling on United Airlines. It is not surprising that with three incidents happening within one week and involving beloved pets, the friendly skies are hearing the disgruntled barking from angry customers. Can United turn things around in dealing with customers and their pets?


United Airlines: PR Crises in One Week

After last year’s United Airlines debacle when their passenger, Dr. David Dao, was dragged off a plane after refusing to give up his seat, you would think that in the law of averages, there would be a good amount of time before there was another PR mishap.

Unfortunately, March 2018 has brought three crises for United with that of a puppy found dead in an overhead bin, a German shepherd being routed through Japan by being mistaken for the wrong dog and the third incident when a United flight out of New Jersey to St. Louis had to be diverted to Akron due to an unauthorized dog on board.

Adding to the challenges of “external” crises, there is an even bigger internal crisis with employees of United Airlines. Management in an attempt to be more “customer responsive” has instituted a new course of training called “core4” targeted to give employees skills at better listening and sensitivity for their customers.  It hasn’t really helped.


Handling Communications Challenges Correctly

Clients that NMV Strategies has helped with their communications challenges like United have many things in common. Organizations with communications problems usually have poor morale. In many situations, the employees are dealing with customers who are not always rational and very demanding. Rather than sensitivity training that United chose to do, we would advise that what really needs to happen is to create a culture of honest communications both internally and externally with all audiences.

Rather than just treating the symptoms, management should take a look at what is causing the tension resulting in less than stellar behavior with their teams and customer interaction.

  • Why aren’t key standards and best practices being followed when it comes to transporting pets?
  • Has United implemented effective internal communications training with refresher classes and quality control audits being scheduled on a timely basis? Are employees who deal with work days full of stressful customer contact given adequate breaks and time to decompress when the days are tough?

While it is easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, it would seem that United is lacking in the fundamentals of developing strategic internal/external communications processes, safety operations and guidelines. Every company has key metrics to survey safety checks and balances of implementing quality customer service.

Somehow, United needs to get back to the basics of being prepared for challenges, for crises and having both internal and external communications tactics to address and solve the problems before the incident makes the next news nightmare. Preparation and anticipation of potential problems can help their employees think rationally when the real crisis strikes.


4 Steps for United to Improve Their Brand Image

NMV Strategies would advise United to make the following changes to move forward and once again become an airline known for a good experience in “flying the friendly skies.”

  1. Practice Makes Perfect
    • Do role playing and situational training of hypothetical crises that could possibly happen. While we can’t anticipate every probable situation, thinking creatively and doing “what if” scenarios can help prepare individuals on how to handle situations and have message points to calm an out-of-control customer.
  2. Set Checkpoints for Employees in High Stress Situations
    • Closely monitor key employees who are on the front lines of dealing with customers who are stressed and upset over cancelled flights, late takeoffs and arrivals or even upset about their seat assignment. Even the best of us have a breaking point after 10 angry customers; a reprieve might be needed to regain composure.
  3. Choose Your Words Carefully and Timely
    • If a crisis or a negative situation does occur, remember that what is said in the first few seconds can chart the course for either positive or negative reaction from the court of public opinion. If the customer is clearly in the wrong, try to find a diplomatic way to handle the reaction and if possible, move the discussion to an area where a crowd isn’t witnessing the exchange.
  4. Debrief Twice: Internally and Externally
    • After all is said and done and the crisis has occurred, do a debriefing with your team and if there needs to be a public apology or an explanation of the facts, make sure you or your spokesperson do it as quickly as possible. Don’t wait until next week. If possible, it should be done within 24 hours.

The best advice for handling a crisis is to be prepared with a plan, message points and a team approach to handle both the internal and external landmines that will surely come your way. NMV Strategies has prepared hundreds of individuals on how to take control of a crisis and survive with their personal and corporate brand intact. Contact NMV Strategies to take the first step in being prepared at [email protected] .