“It made me cringe.” “What were they thinking?” “Totally avoidable.”
Those are just some of the responses floral industry members are sharing in reaction to a recent series of mishaps, mistakes and missed opportunities involving United Airlines.
To recap: On April 9, Dr. David Dao, a 69-year-old passenger was dragged off a United Airlines flight last month, to make room for crew members. Other passengers witnessed (and recorded) the violent altercation, which left Dao beaten and bloodied. Footage of the event went viral on social media.
“Looking at this situation from the lens of what I’ve been teaching for 20 years, as soon as that incident took place, there should have been a big mea culpa moment,” said Tim Huckabee of Floral Strategies, who has worked for two decades with florists to improve customer service.
Compounding that incident: United CEO Oscar Munoz’s initial response, including a leaked company email that praised crew members for following protocol and blamed Dao, struck many people as tone-deaf and insensitive. Some PR pros, in fact, called the company’s early responses “something straight out of a horror movie.”
“United should have immediately showered the doctor with apologies and remuneration — maybe a free lifetime pass on United,” Huckabee said. “Honestly, they should have had deep, generous pockets with everyone on that flight, given everyone refunds or vouchers. Maybe both.”
Instead, the company has faced withering criticism on social media and settled a lawsuit for an undisclosed amount with Dao. Munoz also testified this week to Congress, with, as The Washington Post described him, “his tail tucked firmly between his legs.”
“I don’t know how many millions of dollars they’ve wasted or lost through this,” Huckabee said, “but it could have all been avoided.”
A big problem, Huckabee speculated, was that company policies had become too black and white, with little room for empowered employees to create common sense and customer-focused solutions in a tense situation.
In New York City, Nic Faitos of Starbright Floral Design had a similar take. Faitos said he makes a point to ensure that every employee — from manager to delivery driver — is empowered to make a mistake right, no matter the cost.
“No matter what happens, and mistakes do happen, whatever it takes to make the customer happy in the end result we’re going for,” he said. “Every staff member is empowered to do that.”
In Boston, Rick Canale of Exotic Flowers called the United incident “awful and disgusting,” but he said the situation also made him reflect personally on the concept of customer service more broadly, and the sometimes challenging balancing act of providing that top tier service to customers with sky high expectations and, increasingly, short fuses (not to mention personal devices that allow them to air grievances immediately with everyone in their circle.)
“This particular incident was a really poor reaction from United, but we all walk a fine line with customers every day,” he said. “There’s no room for intolerance on either side.”
Read more about how other florists are managing customers’ service expectations in the age of Yelp, Facebook and Google Reviews in the current issue of Floral Management.