For an airline whose brand promise is “fly the friendly skies,” it is ironic how they lost the trust of their customers. The backlash seems to only be the beginning for the airline.
There are few times when I will write about breaking news, but this one is too upsetting not too. And it has everything to do with brand building.
United Airlines has lost the trust of thousands of customers. Here’s why:
— Tyler Bridges (@Tyler_Bridges) April 9, 2017
As if that weren’t bad enough, United’s CEO released a non-apologetic statement and then sent an internal memo to all employees, stating that the passenger that was forcefully removed was being belligerent.
According to PRWeek.com,
PR professionals have condemned United Airlines and its CEO for having “gotten everything wrong” and brought about “one of the most vitrolic onine reactions to a communications crisis ever” in its response to the news of a passenger being violently dragged off one of its planes.
The article quotes several prominent public relations executives and consultants who share their thoughts on how United has poorly handled the situation.
Francis Ingham, director – general of the PRCA, said:
This is a prime example of an organization’s response making the situation worse. United’s belligerent defense, and frankly crazy use of language, has done the unthinkable – made a terrible situation even worse.
I imagine that no PR person had a hand in the drafting of the CEO’s comments – it will either have been him directly, on some misplaced adrenalin high, or it will have been United’s lawyers. Either way, the impact on United’s reputation will be long-lasting, deep, and mightily expensive.
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3 Ways United Airlines Lost its Customers Trust
1. United broke its brand promise to its customers – United’s brand promise is to “fly the friendly skies,” yet they proved that statement to be false within their BrandedWorld the moment they allowed airport security to beat a passenger and drag them off the plane.
Learn how to develop a meaningful brand promise that is truly aligned with your organization’s culture.
2. United’s corporate culture does not align with the brand image being projected – What we see and experience when interacting with United as a brand is now known to be completely different from how corporate acts and treats their customers. This misalignment is now public knowledge and may have dire effects on the airline.
If your corporate culture is not aligned with the image the brand projects, authenticity and integrity come into play. How can customers trust United after this incident and their poor handling of it?
3. United’s core values now feel inauthentic – Customers are attracted to and loyal to brands that they feel share the same values, ideals, and worldviews. After this incident, many customers are now questioning United’s values. Again brand trust is at stake, as customers do not share the same sentiment towards how they handled removing passengers off of an overbooked flight in order to accommodate their own employees.
Putting their employees ahead of the customer, physically harming and dragging a passenger off of a plane do not lend themselves to being authentic, trusting, and caring for their customers. And it certainly doesn’t fit with this brand promise of flying the friendly skies.
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Are you a United Airlines customer? Will you continue to support United after their actions this past Tuesday? How does it make you feel about United? If you were a customer and are choosing to stop, what was it that made you make that decision?