United We Stand, United We Fall: A Lesson in Brand Ambassadorship



As a professional, your actions represent not only you…they also represent your company. You are a brand ambassador when you work with customers, speak at a national conference, or volunteer in the community. You are the brand, and all it stands for. You are the face of the company. One false move, like bad behavior, can stunt or end career success.

The recent United Airlines debacle demonstrated that actions speak volumes about who you are and what you value.

The United Airlines Flight 3711 incident, which occurred on Sunday, April 2, has been reported, analyzed and picked apart by the media, bloggers and regular folks like you and me. Here’s what happened: The flight was fully booked, and passengers were already seated. One passenger, Dr. David Dao, had been asked to relinquish his seat (which he had paid for) to make room for a United employee. He refused. As a result, Chicago Department of Aviation officers swooped in with brut force, handcuffed and carted Dr. Dao off the plane. In the process, his nose and a few teeth were broken. A video captured by another passenger immediately went viral. The rest, as they say, is history. In fact, it was an historic event.

It didn’t have to be this way. A moment of thought before taking an action would have resulted in an entirely different outcome…a more positive one…for everyone involved.

Days later, top headlines are still trending:

Newsweek: Why United Was Legally Wrong to Deplane David Dao

NBC News: United CEO: Doctor being dragged off plane was ‘watershed moment’

What would a good brand ambassador do? Here are a few thoughts:

Know what your brand stands for. Your brand is that one thing that represents who you are and what you stand for. First, United’s brand begins with its name, United. That one word creates a larger-than-life image of the company. What does United stand for? Second, you may or may not remember United Airlines’ famous tagline, “Fly the friendly skies.” Because of the brut force that was used to remove Dr. Dao from his seat, one might question, “Is United really friendly?” If United’s thought leaders had really, well, thought about this, they may have come to the conclusion that the action that was being considered didn’t fit with the United brand. But things didn’t play out that way. Every employee of United is a brand ambassador for the airline. And every employee of the Chicago Department of Aviation serves as a brand ambassador for the organization.

Do the right thing. Consider the public’s reaction once the video went viral. It was clear that everyone agreed that the situation was not handled properly. We have all been in situations where our gut screamed out to us “Don’t do it!!!!!” Yet, we ended up not listening to our intuition and lived to regret our poor choice. When your conscience speaks, listen.

If protocol is flawed, pitch it. “I was just following protocol” is not a good enough reason. Sure, United Airlines had a policy. All airlines have policies, procedures and protocol. Sometimes you need to look at protocol, look at the situation, consider the outcome, and ask if the protocol fits the situation and if the outcome is one you desire. If things don’t add up, it’s time to re-examine the protocol or throw it out completely in that situation. The incident has resulted in United Airlines changing its policy.

Take quick, responsible action. The leadership at United Airlines first offered a boilerplate response to the media, saying they were examining what had happened before commenting. A few days later, United CEO Oscar Munoz apologized and took full responsibility. This was too little too late. Two days after the incident, United’s stock had fallen by 4%, roughly $1.5 billion. Although the stock has regained some of its strength, United will carry this ding on its record forever.

Be strategic. In my workshops, I remind people how important it is to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the marketplace. Technology makes it so easy to do. If you want to get ahead in your career, you have to stay ahead of the competition. A change in the airline industry began shortly after the United Airlines incident. A CBS News headline says it all: “Three airlines change policies in wake of United’s passenger dragging incident.”

Build a culture of respect and compassion. You will never find yourself in an awkward situation or have to apologize for bad behavior if you treat every person that you meet with respect and compassion. More people recognize  that this is the best way to move forward together.

The United Airlines incident is already becoming an important case study for business schools, communication scholars, human resource professionals and enforcement officers. Hopefully this is one case where we will learn from mistakes and bring about positive change as brand ambassadors.

A Quick Click Confirmation Keeps Lines of Communication Open

iPhoneuserProfessionals often complain about the lack of communication with co-workers, bosses or clients that could be remedied easily with a simple “quick click” solution: a confirmation. Technology allows you to quickly respond via text, email, or instant messaging.

All it requires is the addition of one sentence to your communication: Please confirm that you received this (fill in the blank…information/proposal).

Of course your computer or mobile device will let you know when a message is delivered. That’s a good start. It’s not enough. Just because it was delivered doesn’t mean it was opened or even read. Instead of hoping that the recipient will let you know, ask for confirmation instead.

Here’s an example: You receive an inquiry from a prospective client who is interested in doing business with you. This prospect requests additional information and a proposal with pricing. When you send the proposal, don’t assume that the prospect will let you know that it’s been received. At the end of the message, make a request: “Please let me know that you received this proposal, and if you need any clarification.”

Now let’s turn things around. Let’s say that you’re the person doing the requesting. Let the sender know – with a simple electronic confirmation – that you have received the information. “Thanks for your quick response to my request. The proposal looks good. I will contact you after our committee reviews it and makes a decision.”

Then…and here comes the hard part…do what you said you would do. Get back in touch with the sender. Provide an update. Don’t play phone tag or – worse – avoid the sender. There is nothing more frustrating or than submitting information and being avoided by the person who requested it.

According to the summary of an email statistics report conducted by The Radicati Group, Inc., the number of emails received daily, worldwide, in 2015 was 2.6 billion, which is anticipated to increase by 2019 to 2.9 billion.

Worldwide daily texting totals about 20 billion today. Less than half come from the United States. The Pew Research Center, in 2015, issued results of a study, the American Trends Panel, analyzing U.S. smartphone use. In every age group, from 18 to over 50, 92%+ use their smartphones for texting, compared to a lower percentage, 87-91%, who use their smartphones for emails. These numbers are continuing to grow, and so will the number of electronic messages that fall between the cracks. That means you must work harder to ensure that communication remains active and open.

Use technology to remain connected, whether you are the person requesting information or the person responding to a request. It only takes a second or two to request or give a simple confirmation that will keep the lines of communication open.