Trust – lost by a robotic response to a human problem

United Airlines Blog

You can understand why some are concerned about the growing influence of robots in our lives when you consider United Airlines’ thoughtless response to a customer complaint.

Pushing for efficiency Chris Chmura’s flight had left twenty minutes early, leaving him at the gate feeling somewhat confused. His initial complaint was down to the behaviour and service of the gate worker who had failed to deal with the problem caused by the airline. When the Florida reporter issued his complaint United Airlines’ customer service department fell short of what it promised to deliver – instead issuing an unmoving response. The decision to add robots to the customer care team may be a step too far, and consequently have gone some way to damaging the brand image.

The major problem is the gulf between United Airlines’ promises of great customer care compared to the actual delivery of their service. If they truly promise to ‘provide great customer service’ then surely, they’d not have allowed this spell checking gaff, suggesting that his name is relatively similar to ‘Mr Human’, nor would they be so impersonal. The choice to not spell check, or even look over the response points to a lack of a strict external and internal communication policy.

With  little human intervention, what should have been a straightforward apology and correction has now been forgotten and escalated into a much bigger debacle, with the company being ridiculed for its inability to deal with a simple problem.

The idea of a customer services department reliant on its computers to confidentially deal with issues overshadows the original problems highlighted by the baiting reporter, but what’s more alarming is that Chmura has blown up a bigger problem, failure to successfully communicate with its customers in an appropriate and diligent demeanour.

Words are cheap and United Airlines has definitely proven that by saying “Mr Human, your email clearly expresses your disappointment and I would like to extend a sincere apology for any negative impression that may have been created.” How can a computer be sincere?

In all the communication error made by the airline points to a larger problem, and has gone some way to scarring the brand. If you’re going to make promises, make sure you keep them otherwise your brand will appear hollow.

That’s why a guarantee is so binding – a contractual promise that pays out if you fail to deliver rather than a few well meaning words and a discretionary compensation.

Where is the brand custodian at UA?  Why aren’t they putting up a stauncher defence?

Is this a world class company?

Chris Chmura isn’t the only angry felt passenger…

Will.i.am tweeted: @iamwill I’m flying to china and @united just gave my seats away…wtf

Robert from El Cajon, California: ‘The United flight #5422 was delayed when a crew member did not make it to work.’

Jeff of Tomball, Texas: ‘My mother-in-law who is 72 was supposed to have a direct flight with United Airlines leaving from Houston to San Francisco today. We get there. The flight’s been cancelled to 10am… So we wait till 10 then the flights cancelled to 1:15pm… the customer service is non-existent with this company.’

Would YOU trust to fly UA?

What to do if someone makes a defamatory comment about you by Rebecca Sloan

Rebecca Sloan of Kinetic Communications

On Tuesday 30th November, I ran a talk on measuring and managing corporate reputation in the 21st century for Birmingham’s Women in Business Association (WiBA).

One topic of particular interest to attendees was how to handle a defamatory comment made online.  In response, I’ve compiled a basic factsheet to help you identify when a comment is ‘fair’ and when it’s crossed the line into defamation. (NB this is only a guide.  Legal advice should be sought before pursuing a claim).

A basic guide to defamation:

A statement about a person is defamatory if it tends to do any one of the following:

1)            exposes him to hatred, ridicule or contempt;
2)            causes him to be shunned or avoided;
3)            lowers him in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally; or
4)            disparages him in his business, trade, office or profession.

The defamed person does NOT have to prove that the statement is false or that he has been damaged in any way.  He needs to show only that the statement tends to discredit him.

What’s the test for defamation?

The test for juries is whether, under the circumstances in which the statement was published, reasonable men and women to whom the publication was made would be likely to understand it in a defamatory sense.

What the claimant must prove

To succeed in an action for defamation, a claimant must prove three things about the statement he is complaining about:

1)            it is defamatory
2)            it may be reasonably understood to refer to him.

The claimant must prove the words of which he complains of identify him as the person defamed. The test of whether the words identified the person suing is whether they would reasonably lead people acquainted with him to believe that he was the person referred to.  It is not necessary that the entire world should understand the libel; it is sufficient if those who know the claimant can make out that he is the person meant.

3)            it has been published to a third person.

NB: every repetition of a libel is a fresh publication and creates a fresh cause of action.

Who can sue?

1)            Individuals
2)            Corporations – if the comment is capable of injuring its trading reputation or if the company has a corporate reputation distinct from that of its members which is capable of being damaged by a defamatory statement.

Exceptions:  associations, such as a club, cannot sue unless it is an incorporated body but words disparaging an association will almost invariably reflect upon the reputations of one or more of the officials who, as individuals, can sue.

Please note, although this guide will equip you with a basic knowledge of defamation, it is by no means an expansive guide.  Always seek legal advice before pursuing a claim.  Alternatively, if you’d like to discuss this in further detail beforehand, then get in touch!

BP and Chile: building belief in a brand – by Aimee Postle

Aimee Postle

Aimee Postle

So, back in April, an oil rig blew up off the coast of Louisiana.  More than six months later and BP is still feeling the full force of the damage to its reputation, its share price and its ability to move forward with new projects.

In August, 33 miners were trapped deep underground in Chile and were not rescued until two months later.  A month after the rescue and Chile is still basking in the reflected glory of success and world attention.

Two crises, two very different outcomes.  What lessons are there to learn for business?

  • Get out of your BED (blame, excuses, denial) and pick up your OAR (ownership, accountability, responsibility) – where BP tried to blame everyone but themselves, the Chilean government took responsibility for staging a mammoth rescue attempt with the eyes of the world watching.
  • Personality matters – while Tony Haywood at BP was vilified for taking a sailing trip in the middle of the disaster, Chilean billionaire President Sebastian Pinera was available for comment and acted as a charismatic spokesperson for the country as a whole.  US President Obama’s approval rating sank after a slow reaction to the BP disaster while Pinera’s grew.
  • It all comes back to basic identity – while BP workers the world over conveniently forgot who they worked for when it came to socialising with friends, the Chilean people rediscovered their heritage and national identity.  While BP tried to disassociate itself from the crisis, Chile used their situation as a textbook example of turning a crisis into a reputation triumph.  The rescue of these 33 miners has sparked nationalist parties throughout the country with people celebrating and reconnecting to their national identity.

So, next time you get a call in the middle of the night to react to a business crisis… stop and think.  Instead of thinking about how to pass the buck, consider instead how you can own the crisis and influence your reputation positively.

The Martini Era – by Angela Podmore

Angela Podmore, MD, Kinetic Communications - Birmingham PR Consultancy

Angela Podmore

THE MARTINI ERA

Anyone remember the Martini ads?  At their zenith in the 1970s but repeated in the 1990s (I think), they featured the beautiful people having wonderful times in the world’s most glamorous places and promised pleasure anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

What’s it got to do with today?

Whatever brand you need people to believe in – personal or corporate – it’s open to attack anytime, anyplace, anywhere.  I’ve coined it the ‘Martini era’.  Let’s hope they won’t chase me for copyright infringement – they should consider it a favour.

So how do you control brand reputation in these times?

FOCUS

The answer?  Make sure everyone knows what you stand for.  What’s your common purpose as an organisation?  What makes you stand out?  How do you define ‘your way’ of doing things?  Your culture?

The answers to these questions are the essential essence.  They’re what makes your brand tick.  Bottle that essence and it pulls everything into sharp focus.  We all know how powerful that is.  Ever started a fire with the sun’s rays and a simple magnifying glass?

WHO GETS IT

Size doesn’t matter.  Business start-up and multinational alike understand the need for focus.  But it’s equally interesting who doesn’t get it.

ENTREPRENEURS

Positive Pressure gets it.  They’ve been in business for a few years but knew they didn’t have their ‘elevator sell’ sorted – ie that ten second sell that would make them stand out if they were sharing a lift with a stranger.

They knew what they did – they can measure the difference they make in team performance by building individual wellbeing ( massage, reflexology etc).

Our two hour session energised them because “the vision is so exciting and it’s great to have something that feels so right”.  Hopefully, that clarity will help them with every business decision from now on.

GLOBAL LEADERS

For big business, let’s look at Goodrich:  Fortune 500, global aerospace and defence company.  ‘If there’s an aircraft in the sky, we’re on it’.  They know their essence.  They also know the key is to integrate internal and external communications.

Goodrich ECEPS division – 1,000 people spread over five continents – understands how internal communications is key to keep the essence alive.

For all its investment in a successful Farnborough Show, trade advertising and sponsorships, a disgruntled employee could shake the faith in its reputation with what would appear to them an anodyne, online comment.

So when Niki Court, ECEPS marketing co-ordinator, asked us to come into an internal communications session and challenge them, I knew exactly where she was coming from.  She wanted an ‘agent provocateur’.

(I had the good fortune to work at Saatchis in the 1980s where we were taught to seek opposite opinion.  Criticism is more powerful than harmony in testing creative ideas.)

Niki was leading a continuous improvement workshop and wanted an outsider’s perspective.  We served up an A0 sheet filled with pictures of exemplars to inspire the team to raise their game when communicating internally.

All were highly skilled and experienced communicators around the table.

“Kinetic helped spark interesting conversations,” said Niki.  “The session was very interactive from the start and the conversations carried on long after they’d left.  They inspired us in quite a few ways by using new/different methods of communication.

“Their thoughts on exemplars – what others companies are doing – were also reassuring because they told us that we’re doing a lot right already in terms of internal communications and promoting a values-driven culture.  They helped us put all of what we’re already doing in a clearer context and really raised the energy of the group.”

Organisations like Goodrich have all the channels ‘plumbed in’ – website, intranet, media relations, newsletters etc.  It’s the consistency of their messages that glues them all together.

Today’s top brands are congruent.  That means they look, sound and feel the same anytime, anyplace and anywhere you interact with them.

We are a world away from ‘give me six press cuttings in the local papers.’

We left the era of fluff over substance some time ago.  The Martini era is about transparency, trust and integrity.  Now content is king and conversation is the kingdom.

Building belief in the football brand – by Aimee Postle

Aimee Postle, Account Manager, Kinetic Communications - Birmingham PR consultancy

Aimee Postle

Cameron and Clegg must have been grateful this past week as their Comprehensive Spending Review announcements were overshadowed by something far more important for the UK population – whether Wayne Rooney was, in fact, going to leave Manchester United.

This week has been somewhat of a football focused week – with Pompey on the brink of collapse (again!) and Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson facing a barrage of criticism after just eight league games in charge.  Recent months have seen the cash for votes scandal around the England 2018 bid for the FIFA World Cup while the exit of Martin O’Neill from Aston Villa dominated headlines for a number of days.

So, what is it about ‘the beautiful game’ which captures hearts and minds – and headlines – and what can the business world learn when it comes to managing their own reputations?

Rich or poor, black or white, at home or abroad – anyone can watch or support football.  It is universally understood and transcends linguistic, cultural and geographic barriers.  Clubs such as Manchester United are internationally recognised – with kits and souvenirs being shipped all over the world.  It could be argued that Rooney’s exit – no longer to happen – would have been felt further and wider than the UK spending cuts.

For business, this suggests that universal access can reap high rewards.

However, while universally accessible, football brands also instil a sense of team pride – fans feel a sense of belonging, the right to comment on failures and revel in success.  Anyone who considers themselves a fan feels they have the right to pass public judgement on the actions of the football business.  So, every decision is examined in minute detail.

For business, something which may lead to uncomfortable outcomes.

Finally, this scrutiny runs both ways.  Football clubs get the positive stories and headlines because they provide information and access in the bad times as well.  The media is a fickle friend and journalists will soon stop talking about the good times if they are not given the access during the bad.

For business, a lesson that media coverage does not always go the way you want it to!

The power of reputation – by Angela Podmore

Recently, Birmingham City University Business School hosted an event on Britain’s Most Admired Companies – annually featured in Management Today.

The study of corporate reputation is led by Prof D Michael Brown and this year’s keynote speaker was Sir Terry Leahy, Tesco CEO since 1997.  He’s grown the turnover to £62.5bn and £3.5bn profit, 48,000 stores and 472,000 staff – in other words a guy who knows a thing or two about getting people facing in the same direction.

Leahy finds reputation, “the most unsettling aspect of management” because you can spend a lifetime hoping to build a reputation and you can lose it in a single day.  He sees most managers as control freaks so “it’s an uncomfortable thought”.

“You can’t buy, own or possess a reputation.  It’s given to you by other people” – with these few words he shows his understanding of reputation.  A reflection of ‘everything you say, everything you do and everything others say about you’ (source:  CIPR).

He explained how far they’d come in that a tobacco company had considered acquiring Tesco in the 1980s but turned down the deal because it “might drag down their reputation”.

Regarding managing reputation, “you can’t set out to manage your reputation.  You just have to ensure you manage your company and ensure you manage a good company.”

He said at the heart of it, a company needs to be built on a clear common purpose of what it exists to do and do it well based on values.

The Tesco vision is to ‘create benefit for customers in order to earn their lifetime loyalty’.  Their values are:  ‘service – no one should try harder for customers than Tesco’ and ‘respect – treat others as we’d like to be treated ourselves’.

Simple!  And that’s why it’s worked so well.

He said you can manage 100 people but you can’t hope to manage hundreds of thousands of people.  You have to ensure they share the sense of common purpose, follow the right strategy, with the right values and we don’t over control the business.

Another great tip he gave any would-be-top-CEO.  “You mustn’t overreact when crisis strikes.  The key is to run with it and come out the other side.  A good company, built on solid foundations will come through the other side.  It’s knowing when to use the sword and the shield.”

He says the power of reputation can be measured in the percentage of ‘intangibles’ of a company’s market capitalisation.  The higher the number, the higher the esteem in which that organisation is held.  So you have Mitchells and Butler at 25%, Sainsbury’s at 30%, Tesco at 60%, M&S at 64%, Severn Trent at 65%, GSK at 83% and Diageo at 86%.  So, measure for measure, Diageo’s reputation is three times more powerful than M&B’s.

Apart from market cap, across all sectors, there are clear links between strong corporate reputation and performance:

·         Quality products

·         Quality marketing/brands

·         Ability to attract, recruit and retain their teams

·         Strong quality management

·         Financial solutions

·         Value as a long-term investment

·         Capacity to innovate

·         Community and environmental responsibility.

But love Leahy for his parting shot:  “reputation is internally managed and externally assessed.”  That’s the best shot in the arm for the owner of an integrated communications consultancy since Bill Gates’ “if I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on PR.”

Reputation can be down to experiences outside your control by Aimee Postle

We’re working on a number of new business opportunities in the leisure and tourism sector at the moment. As part of that, we were fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to spend 24 hours in Cornwall a few weeks’ ago.

It got us thinking, reputation is about what you do, what you say and what others say about you (CIPR definition). But, it is also about what you don’t do and, perhaps somewhat unfairly, the environmental conditions over which you have no control.

For example, the UK has suffered a number of abysmal summers. The weather has been grotty and it has been all round cheaper and more pleasant to holiday abroad. But, not this year according to Positive Weather Solutions.

PWS, which has out-forecast the Met Office a number of times in the last two years (according to the Metro), believes we’re on track for our hottest ever summer on record.

So, as a holiday company in England’s famed holiday county (English Riviera, Newquay and so on), how do you make the weather work in your favour? Not only do you have to persuade potential holidaymakers that your site is the best, but that they should holiday in the UK in the first place.

You may be offering exactly the same level of facilities and service in two concurrent weeks, but if one family experiences rain and the other sunshine, it is your resort which will be credited or blamed with the good or bad holiday. Likewise, if the holidaymaker is stuck in a five hour traffic jam to get to you – it will obviously be your fault and not their journey planning.

And, it is not just the UK. When outdoor enthusiast and Kinetic MD went to Finland back in February, she was joined in the chalet by a woman who was determined to ruin everyone else’s holiday. This woman felt it was the holiday company’s responsibility to give her a good holiday, to ensure the resort was full and to make sure the weather was perfect. She took no personal responsibility for her own experiences.

Our top tips for working with the factors outside of your control:

• Embrace them – find a way to use the situation to your advantage; the bad weather won’t just go away because you ignore it. Perhaps it’s an incentive to develop some new all-weather facilities and entertainment for guests.

• Use them – maybe poor weather isn’t the best choice but can you actually make use of the factor as part of your unique selling point?

• Overcome them – offer something so special that it won’t matter whether the sun is shining or traffic is congested.