United Airlines balanced on the razor’s edge of a crisis, but thanks to employees who did the right thing, the company averted one.
This is rare, or maybe rarely reported, but it shows how a few minor acts can click together to avoid a scandalous meltdown. Thanks to EMA colleagues John Wilder and Meredith Dropkin for flagging this one.
As the event is recounted, keep reminding yourself what sort of a national, bad-customer-service story failure to do the right thing would have generated and how many social media entries would have piled on United if its employees were insensitive, slow, or overtly hostile.
San Francisco resident Kerry Drake needed to get to Lubbock, TX, through Houston, in January to see his dying mother. He had only 40 minutes between connecting United flights in Houston and had to catch the last flight out to Lubbock. He was panicked on the flight to Houston when he thought he’d miss his connection.
Flight attendants intervened and calmed him and, most importantly, got his connecting flight information to the captain, who radioed ahead. When he got off the airport train and was running toward the gate, “I was still like maybe 20 yards away when I heard the gate agent say, ‘Mr. Drake, we’ve been expecting you,'” he said.
With the information from the flight attendants, the captain had radioed ahead about Drake’s situation, and the Lubbock crew had delayed departure to get him on board. Even his luggage made it, thanks to the ground crew. He made it to the hospital to visit with his mother before he death early the next morning.
Our society rarely rewards people for “doing their jobs,” unless the action is extraordinary: A firefighter pulling a child from a burning building; a police officer rescuing a hostage; a nurse triaging an accident victim on the side of a road until EMTs arrive.
But we all pounce on those who screw up. Google even gives extra weight to “negative” stories in its search equation about people and companies. If one link in the United team’s chain broke, the whole airline would fall to earth.
If people are going to back away or avoid companies whose decisions affect them negatively, then United’s net promoter score probably went up a few deserved points after this positive act.
Caring and smart people did a little extra to benefit a customer at a sensitive time. All would surely say that the national publicity was a nice bonus, but it was all in a day’s work. As it should be.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.