United Steps Up its Response to Public Outcry

Posted by Allan Steinmetz on 3 May 2017

Tags: , , ,

Admission of guilt – Promises to change - Last week United Continental’s CEO, Oscar Munoz sent out an apology letter to all frequent flyer customers and placed a full-page ad in major newspapers including the Wall Street Journal. This came after two tumultuous weeks of public embarrassments, passenger settlements and internal reflection. I can only imagine what it was like working at United Continental last week. Finger-pointing, chaos, urgency, blame, anger and depression.

The letter spoke about “breaking the customer trust and never being able to apologize enough for what occurred” and pledged a “commitment that their future actions will speak louder than words”. He admitted that their corporate policies were placed ahead of their shared values and that their procedures got in the way of employees doing what they know is right. That is quite an admission.

In the letter, they made a commitment that they will never ask law enforcement to remove customers from a flight ever again. In addition, they said they will increase incentives for voluntary rebooking up to $10,000 and eliminating the red tape and permanently lost bags with a new no-question-asked $1500 reimbursement policy. They will also implement a new app for employees that will enable them to provide on the spot goodwill gestures in the form of mile credits and amenities when passengers experience miss-the-mark. The letter goes on to talk about their corporate citizenship and social responsibility for the communities that they serve. The letter ends with Mr. Munoz saying, “our goal should be nothing less than to make you truly proud to say, I fly United.”

Initially, my thought was to dissect this letter with a red edit and repost it on this blog as an example of what he was doing wrong. I spent the weekend thinking about it. The more I thought about it, it seemed genuine and I felt bad knocking them when they were trying to reverse a bad situation. As a flying public, we shouldn’t allow this letter to be hallow and meaningless. As their customers, we need to hold United Continental accountable by providing feedback on their progress.

Inward, as an employee brand engagement agency, here are some of our suggestions. United Continental must address their internal culture, purpose and values through an effective on-going internal change communications program. Here are some ideas that United Continental, or any company for that matter, should be considering to effectively communicate with their people and’s transform their organization to become customer centric.

  • Authentic and Sincere - Avoid platitudes and posturing, be personal and human
  • Honest and Factual - Truthful without any added sugar-coating
  • Simple and Frequent - Clear, concise, and delivered with expected regularity – work hard to make message simple to comprehend and easy to implement
  • Real and Believable – Tangible and meaningful messages so that people can relate to and experience firsthand
  • Be forward looking - Clearly see their shared interests - Envision the future together
  • Empathetic and Reflect Concern - Connect with their feelings of pain and insecurity
  • Show Leadership and Confidence - Demonstrate you know what you are doing
  • Delivered as Cascading Communications - Utilize multiple levels of people who are well-known and respected among your targeted audiences

Mr. Munoz, good luck, we at Inward hope you work it out for your employees, passengers and shareholder’s sake. We truly hope that United, makes its skies friendly again.