This article is NOT to debate the merits of what took place on each of the airlines. As usual, more information continues to come out and it can change how everyone perceives each situation.
Here are two reasons United Airlines and American Airlines suffering from such bad publicity lately:
1 – Customer Service and Perceptions
ACSI or American Consumer Satisfaction Index ranked the airline industry as having the worst customer service in 2011. It’s been near the bottom ever since.
When the videos of the passenger being pulled from the United Airlines flight and the mouthy United Airlines employee taunting a male passenger came out, they went viral quickly. They were dramatic and that plays a big role. Perceptions also play a role.
It’s easy for consumers to believe an airline employee did something wrong because the perception of the airline industry and customer service is already negative. Using Google search you can type a fragment sentence and see perceptions of just about any industry. Before I finish typing the word employees, Google’s technology guesses what I am going to type in based on what others have typed into Google.
Compare the airline employee question to a Chick-fil-A example.
I fly often, speaking at conventions and spending consulting days with clients all over the country. I’ve never been dragged off of a flight nor have I threatened a flight attendant but I have experienced many snippy, miserable flight attendants and other airline employees. As I write this I am not sure of the entire story of the American Airlines situation but that is the point. It is already easy to believe that an airline employee was rude. Not necessarily because it was American Airlines – because of the industry as a whole.
In my book, Marketing Battleground I referenced the United Breaks Guitars video series. The videos were funny but that’s not the only reason they were such a hit. The perception already existed that airlines are NOT careful with your luggage.
2 – Everyone is a Journalist
Cell phones now have better videography than huge, over-the-shoulder $10,000 cameras from years ago. Video footage adds drama to a story. Hearing that a flight attendant on American Airlines was rude to a passenger is one thing but seeing the employee actually taunt the angry passenger is more impactful. Video footage also has the ability to go viral faster on Facebook, YouTube, and other social media.
Always act as though you are being recorded, because that might be exactly what is happening.
The American Airlines incident took place after the United Airlines incident. Perhaps American Airlines learned from United’s mistakes. American Airlines took immediate action by suspending their employee and issuing a statement, NOT blaming the passenger.
Mistakes will happen. How you deal with those mistakes matters too.