What to do when things go wrong

What to do when things go wrong? Last week’s eviction of Dr. David Dao from the United Airlines flight went viral. Not the kind of publicity that is welcome. Whatever the reason for the passenger being removed the whole episode proved to be a serious public relations gaffe that damaged share price as well as reputation.

United have since apologised. Dr. Dao has been patched up in hospital. The airline has now reviewed its policies on overbooking passengers and accommodating additional flight crew.  So now that the dust has settled what lessons can we draw?

Our advice to United Airlines or anyone else caught out when things go wrong is quite simple – use the 3 R’s. Here’s what we mean:

  • Regret. Waste no time in apologising.  Speed is of the essence – particularly in our networked world where social media spreads stories quicker than wild fire. Make sure your apologies are sincere too. The higher up the apologiser is in your organisation the better.  Remember to choose your words carefully – if you’re not old enough to remember the comments made by Gerald Ratner in 1992 then search them out and read about their devastating impact.
  • Reason. Apologising is not enough. Make every effort to explain the reasons for why things happened the way they did. Be as honest as you can and resist any temptation to hide behind excuses. Trying to fudge the issue or dodge the bullet will run the risk of making things worse. Again, choose your words carefully. For example use ‘apologise’ rather than ‘sorry’ as this will convey more sincerity when you provide your explanation.
  • Remedy. Again it is important to act as fast as possible to provide a resolution. Don’t let your customer live with the pain of their complaint any longer than they need to. Taking swift action will enable everyone to move on to better things. Handling a compliant well by showing regret, providing the explanation and then providing the remedy may even result in enhancing your reputation rather than just rescue and recover the situation.

Gaffes and blunders are not just the property of big companies. Reputations take ages to build yet can be destroyed in just a few moments. Applying our simple yet effective method will help you deal with those tricky situations that may catch you out.

Paul Beesley, Beyond Theory

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