customer service

By Susan Finch

According to the Chicago Tribune, the now-viral video of an United Airlines crew member dragging a bloodied passenger off a plane was viewed 6.8 million times the same evening the alarming footage was posted. Today, more than a month after the incident, video of the incident has been shared by more than 87,000 people.

But that’s not all the major U.S. airliner has since contended with. CNN reported that United Airlines suffered an immediate 69 percent loss in profit. Indeed, the continuous loop in coverage of a bloodied, elderly man being dragged off a plane continues to prompt global outrage — and brings into question the rights of not just airline customers, but consumers everywhere.

Companies looking to revamp their own customer service policies and procedures can look back at the United Airlines incident as an opportunity of what to steer clear of when faced with a similar customer service experience gone bad.

Social Media Can be Your Best or Worst Friend

Today’s consumers are equipped with incredibly powerful tools. The combination of smartphones and social media makes it easy to instantaneously upload video of poor customer service — and create a viral uproar in the process. Even consumers with small-scale complaints can take to Twitter to publicly express their displeasure or send a barrage of tweets to a company ignoring their inquiries.

Customers expect businesses like yours to respond quickly on social media following an unpleasant customer service experience or simply because the experience fell short of expectation. Twitter found that 71 percent of its users expect a brand to respond to their query within an hour of tweeting.

So what does that mean for your business? Understanding that social media plays a big role in public perception, your business should dedicate a support channel on Twitter to immediately address concerns and, if need be, escalate issues to the appropriate department.

Businesses Need a Streamlined Process

Companies with employees dispersed across different markets, states or countries need a streamlined way to provide consistent and up-to-date customer service. Moving your customer service to the cloud can help improve customer satisfaction and retention, while reducing upfront capital and IT investments.

In fact, you may want to turn to a provider like Aspect Zipwire, which offers inbound, outbound and other multi-channel solutions — complete with CRM integration as well as real-time and historical reporting — to provide a more seamless customer service experience. With a service like Aspect Zipwire, your customer service teams will receive the same up-to-date customer service information and can address issues in real time to avoid a crisis.

Taking Public Responsibility is Crucial

United Airlines made the right decision to publicly apologize for the mishap and announce the actions taken by several crew members — the CEO’s comments in the aftermath didn’t do the airliner any favors, either — was not consistent with their standards for customer service.

It also prompted other major airlines to rethink their policies. Still, don’t wait for a public relations disaster to happen in order to fine-tune your strategy.

Instead, determine in advance how you will roll out communications after a fall-out — and across which social media channels. Additionally, consider when it’s appropriate to talk to the press, when to take to social media, and when to publish a detailed blog post that explains what happened — don’t forget to apologize — before announcing what your company will do next time.

Adhere to Customers’ Expectations

Like it or not, airline passengers can expect, from time to time, to get bumped from a flight in exchange for some type of compensation. However, many are unlikely to acquiesce to the request after they’ve already boarded their flight. With that in mind, always set customer service expectations often and early — and adhere to your policies to make abundantly clear how your company conducts business.

Your next customer service disaster doesn’t have to spiral out of control — and go viral — like the United Airlines incident. But, even a month and change after the incident, United Airlines proved you can take a major public relations blunder and turn it into a positive by taking the right steps to make things right.

Susan Finch is a freelance writer living in Atlanta, and loves helping businesses improve their bottom line with compelling copy that sparks action. When she’s not writing, she’s traveling with her family and plotting her next creative pursuit.