What a Small Business can Learn from the United Airlines Fiasco

What a Small Business can Learn from the United Airlines Fiasco

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What a Small Business can Learn from the United Airlines Fiasco

It’s always people first, and then company

By now, we’ve all seen the horrific video of Dr. David Dao being forcibly removed from his United Airlines seat to make room for the airline’s crew members. According to reporting in The New York Times, the incident left the victim with “a broken nose, a concussion, two knocked-out teeth and sinus problems that may require reconstructive surgery.”

It’s no wonder the event sparked worldwide news coverage.

Notice that we used the word “victim” when discussing Dr. Dao. That’s intentional. If there’s anything the United Airlines crisis should remind us – small – and large – business owners, alike – it’s that people must be the focus of everything we do.

Without people, there is no business

Obviously, today’s public relations landscape would have been nearly unrecognizable ten years ago. Social media has changed everything about customer interaction, from how we learn about a company, to how we purchase its products, to the venue in which we express our complaints. Some days, it seems as if the pace of communication rivals lightening for its speed and destructive power.

Social media, however, was not the cause of United’s downfall last week. Those videos wouldn’t have gone viral if it weren’t for one thing: they elicited powerful human emotions. They spoke to us as people.

As business owners, we must never forget that every consumer experience is based on a human interaction. Even when the experience is fully automated – for example, a call to a company’s automated information line – we are still having a human experience in a technological realm. As soon as a company fails to meet us on a human level – treating us as numbers rather than individuals, logging our complaints instead of answering our needs, blaming us as “belligerent” instead of admitting to a mistake – the game is over. No matter what a company says, our human, emotional response to an interaction with that company will forever color our impression of their brand.

  • If a website is convoluted, we’ll think of the company as hard to work with.
  • If a customer service rep is curt, we’ll think of the brand as cold.
  • If a delivery is late, we’ll wonder if the brand keeps its promises.

No matter the context, we respond as people to every experience.

Jim Lukaszewski, long-recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on crisis communication, reminds every company he advises of one fact: The single most important element in any crisis is the victims. In his book, Lukaszweski on Communication he writes, “Victims and how they are treated will determine just how much of your crisis response will be carried out successfully.”

In other words, if you want to be successful in good times and bad, remember this: Business is about the people, people, people.

What will you do differently in your business, in light of fiascos like that of United Airlines? We’d love to hear your thoughts.