Roy's Blog

April 16, 2017

United Airlines - an excellent learning example for leaders

The recent debacle with United Airlines has once again demonstrated the woeful state of leadership in some organizations.

And don’t even suggest that it’s not a leadership issue.

It is in every respect. The buck stops at the leader when there are egregious acts committed by their company.

The leader is responsible for the values and the culture of the organization; they get paid the big bucks to ensure that customers are served with respect, employees are inspired to perform and shareholders earn a reasonable return on their investment.

What can leaders learn from the recent United meltdown?

1. The employee outranks the customer. No room for employees meant the plane was “overbooked”and a customer had to go. Really? No other solutions?
Hard to believe, but to me it shouts out the priority of the organization. Where is the leader’s fingerprints on this process? MIA.

2. The “dumber” the rule the more draconian the enforcement measure. Actually there is a range of treatment at play here. On the one hand the customer is enticed to accept compensation for “overbooking” to physical extraction if they don’t accept it.


3. The customer’s personal circumstances don’t matter. The passenger was a doctor and had to get home to see patients but that didn’t seem to matter. He was chosen to go and that was it. No special dispensation here.

4. The first response should be to blame the customer for the outrageous event. After all a “belligerent” individual deserves what they get, right?
Seem to me there should be an organizational value that deals with the customer’s charter of rights.

5. Do whatever it takes to NOT apologize, and get the lawyers involved in the communications process. Have the lawyers tweet out your position to mitigate any potential liability you might face.
Draw the process of repentance out as long as possible hoping the matter will soon fizzle out and the royal OOPS! will soon be forgotten.
Basic customer service leadership 101: own the screwup IMMEDIATELY, apologize - say it… “We screwed up and we are so very sorry.” And go further and state what the plan is to “make it right”.

We apologize

6. The power of social media can be “managed” to keep it from shining the spotlight on egregious acts like this. Leaders need to understand that people now have a powerful voice which they use to expose things that are just plain wrong.
So when things go awry, leaders need to anticipate a social media response and get out in front of it.

This event so far has cost the United shareholder dearly and there is more potential bad news coming in the form of a law suit.

United is not the only organization committing unforgivable acts on their customers but we should take the opportunity as leaders to reflect on how our organizations deal with similar situations.

Don’t ask for an organizational review.

Get on it yourself.


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  • Posted 4.16.17 at 03:03 am by Roy Osing
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