The news has been filled with how United Airlines physically removed a paying passenger from one of its flights to make room for one of its crew members. The passenger sustained an injury and the United CEO called it re-accomodating the passenger.  Then after he received negative feedback from his initial statement, he put out another statement blaming the passenger.

The company has now lost $800 million dollars over this incident and its negative domination of social media simply continues to grow. The public is angry, appalled, outraged, fascinated, and engaged. As a business owner, you need to be paying attention to this story.

First, what kind of corporate culture would make employees think it was okay to call guards to physically pull a paying customer off a plane to make room for a crew member? What happened to the customer is always right?

In a scene reminscient of “The Lottery”, a story in which an individual is chosen to be stoned to death by pulling slips, an elderly doctor was forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight with multiple passengers recording the event on their cell phones. These videos then played over and over again on TV, on laptops, desktops, Smart Phones, Tablets, etc. A snap decision by this crew may end up bankrupting this Mega Company. The power of social media.

Lesson 1: Treat customers with respect. Always. No matter what. If a customer becomes belligerent, find a way to to resolve the situation. Never resort to violence or a physical confrontation. I’m really appalled I have to even put this in print.

Then the CEO put out a statement saying that the cusomter had re-accommodated. I’m not sure that anyone would think that was an appropriate way to “re-accommodate” a customer.

What the CEO didn’t understand is that every person saw themselves in that scenerio. Anyone who travels, knows what it feels like to be delayed, forced to wait, bumped from a flight or other way inconvenienced. They thought about what it would be like to be forced off a flight when they had to get home. The passenger refusing to leave the plane was standing up for all the passengers who had ever had a negative experience with an airline.

Lesson 2: If your company messed up (overbooked) in order to squeeze every dime out of every flight, then you need to pay up. For a high enough price, someone would have gotten off that plane. Think how much money offering someone a thousand dollars to get off would have saved the company. If you forget Lesson 2, go back to Lesson 1.

When people took offense at his language, he doubled down and blamed the now victim/hero passenger.

Lesson 3: Apologize, even when you’re not wrong. Even when its not your fault. Apologize and go back to Lesson 1.

Lesson 4: Talk to your employees about this situation. Ask them how they would have handled it. If you don’t like the answers, go back to Lesson 1.

Finally, if it’s your competitor who is attracting negative attention, take advantage of it. During United series of unforunate events, Southwest tweeted out a revised slogan, “We beat our competitors. Not you.”

As a business owner, take notice, learn lessons and touch base with your employees so they understand that this type of response is never acceptable. It’s much better to go viral on social media for your exceptional customer service than for a bad decision made by and overworked employ.

Stay tuned: I smell resignation by the end of the week.