The recent incident on a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville is a disturbing reminder of how customer relations can go bad. While this was a sticky situation to begin with, it was made worse by the actions of all parties involved. Ultimately, from the customer perspective, United has a debacle on their hands. While they have continued to add fuel to the fire, what are the lessons that we can learn from this?

  1. You aren't just dealing with the person you are actually working with. When United called the police, they were making the assumption that the only customer they were working with was the man they were trying to get off of the airplane. As you can see from the horrified looks and sounds of other passengers, they were dealing with 69 other passengers on the plane too. It's pretty clear that the man who was forcibly removed from the plane will never fly United again, but what is even clearer is that the people who saw this will think long and hard before getting on another United flight.
  2. Focus on the two things customers want. Customers want to have their problems solved and leave feeling great about the experience. While United wasn't able to solve all its customers' problems, it could have at least tried harder to make them feel great about the experience. Even after things went south, they still could have done more - but they decided to double down, with CEO Oscar Munoz choosing to blame the customer instead of expressing regret about what happened.
  3. The costs of all these dissatisfied customers is far greater than the costs of satisfying this one customer. There's a psychological barrier for compensation around the $1000 mark that would have cleared enough passengers off to allow the United crew to get to Louisville on time, if United had just spent the extra $200 to get one more person to volunteer. Instead, they'll lose money from the settlement that will certainly happen with the passenger who was dragged off the airplane. They'll lose money from those who witnessed the incident in person. They'll lose money from the millions of viral views that have occurred and that will continue to occur. 

The old rule of thumb is that one dissatisfied customer will tell 26 other people, but in the internet age and with the right story, that voice can amplify by a factor of tens of thousands. If you aren't able to solve a customer's problem, find creative ways to leave them feeling great. It doesn't have to cost a lot, and it may save you a lot more down the road.