As the dust settles, what are the lessons from the worldwide attention that’s been directed at the ability of United Airlines to transport musical instruments (or more specifically, the musical criticism directed at their service by Dave Carroll – viewed by over 4 million people, and credited with a significant hit on United’s share price)?
Apart from the obvious (if you are an airline it’s best ACTUALLY to not break people’s luggage as well as create the impression that you don’t break luggage), the real lessons are about better integration in online and offline reputation management and reaction. Speed of reaction is all very well, but judging tone and style correctly is even more important.
In both the online and trad media reaction, there is no real sign of a United personality or sense of humour in responding to what is, let’s face it, a bit of funny self publicity by a very PR savvy musician. Forget about the immediate customer service reaction, let’s focus on the PR and communications. As the story gathered pace, the only faces from United wore suits, the people who were being accused of not caring at all about their passengers luggage, United’s baggage handlers, were allowed to remain faceless.
Should the airline really have let Dave Carroll paint their staff as the airport equivalent of Darth Vader’s stormtroopers, rather than people who care about their work and may in this case have made an innocent mistake? Perversely it’s YouTube’s own systems that do more to put a face to United. For every person who’s searched for Dave Carroll’s video by typing United into the YouTube search, at least our good friends at YouTube are kind enough to also offer a selection of United’s heritage ads and a couple of recent films praising the skills of United’s pilots.
And with the traditional media, especially as the story took off. Was there any attempt to sell-in United doing something simple and creative to show a characterful mea culpa which turned round views? It wouldn’t have taken much, for example just United making a (non legally binding) simple apology, and buying 10 new guitars for a music school in United’s Chicago home town. What a wasted opportunity to turn a negative into new impressions of United.
You can’t help but think Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic would have handled it all very differently.