Leadership is taking responsibility while others are making excuses.  – John C Maxwell

“A funny thing happened on the way to the forum.”

When I made out my April content calendar, I was planning to write a blog about leadership in regards to the customer’s experience with United Airlines.  I was going to cite Dave Carroll’s angry customer song, “United Breaks Guitars” on YouTube.

Then this happened Sunday night:

Videos posted by @tyler_bridges and @JayseDavid

Published reports state United flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky was overbooked, and the airline offered as much as $800 to customers who would volunteer to be re-booked on another flight.  When no one agreed, United arbitrarily chose 4 passengers to displace.  Videos recorded by eyewitnesses on the plane show Chicago Department of Aviation officers forcibly removing one passenger whose glasses where knocked askew and his face bloodied.

Here’s the statement United’s CEO, Oscar Munoz, released within hours of the incident:

United Airlines statement

The Twittersphere erupted over the event – especially, of Munoz using the word “re-accommodate” to describe United’s handling of the situation.

NY Daily News cartoon, United Airlines, customer experience

Image posted by @NYDailyNews and @BillBramhall

Remember poor Dave Carroll?  This blog was going to be about Dave, his broken guitar, and his long struggle with United to get the airline to admit its Chicago baggage handlers had caused him a real loss.  United Breaks Guitars is approaching 16.5 million views on YouTube.  There are also two sequel music videos and a book of the same name.

Thanks, United.  This was going to be a light-hearted blog…kinda like Dave’s quirky songs about United’s customer service problems.

Granted; it’s best to wait until all facts are brought to light before passing judgment in a public forum, but the optics are not flattering to United or the Chicago officers, one of whom is reportedly now off the job.

How could United have handled this situation differently…along with broken guitars, broken cellos, lost luggage, disputes caused by overbooking, delayed/grounded flights and misunderstandings over leggings?  (United has a long string of passenger complaints.)  I was going to save this for “Think About it Thursday,” but since it’s timely, we’ll talk about it now.

Katharine Giovanni is an author and trainer in the hospitality industry. Years ago, she taught me an easy-to-remember acronym for handling customer service issues: ASAP.

Let your customer know you have heard and understand the issue.  This may require asking questions if you need clarification, because it’s vitally important to grasp your customer’s concerns.  The fact that you are actively listening is already earning you credibility points.

Let your customer hear you state how you would think/feel/react if you were in their shoes.
“I would feel _______ if that happened to me.”  Now you’re beginning to be seen as an ally.

Accept the challenge and responsibility for finding a solution.  This does not mean you accept responsibility for what went wrong (unless, of course, you actually are the reason something went wrong); rather, you accept the opportunity to make things right for your customer.  Even if the next task is not “your job,” making customers happy and securing their loyalty is your job.

Communicate a plan to your customer that addresses the question and makes amends for the subpar experience they’ve brought to your attention.

Far more than reasons and excuses, customers want to know how you plan to address an issue, correct it, and prevent it from recurring in the future.

So, United, what’s your plan?

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