I'll be the first to admit that it is human nature to want to avoid blame. Even if you are to blame, the moment someone comes with a verbal attack, your immediate reaction is to go on the defense. You want to put that blame on someone else, or avoid it all together. Unfortunately, thanks to this human reaction, many of us PR professionals may be helping companies dig themselves out of holes caused from trying to avoid blame. According to Interpersonal communication theories, "People are more likely to save face by believing that they are not the cause of the problem." Well United Airlines learned first hand that saving face was not worth the loss of $180 million dollars, and 10% in stock price decline.
Dave Carroll is a musician who was on a flight with United airlines. During a layover in Chicago, Dave noticed the men unloading the luggage where throwing his guitar around. After recovering his guitar in baggage claim, he noticed his guitar had been broken. After trying for 9 months to get a claim processed with United, the response from them was a continual "No!" Frustrated, Dave wrote a song and made a music video titled "United Breaks Guitars," and put it on YouTube.
As of right now, this video has over 13,000,000 views. That's over 13 million negative impressions toward United. As “United Breaks Guitars” was becoming an internet phenomenon, the news media picked up the story. Soon newspapers and news broadcast media across North America were doing stories about the song. Dave became a sought after guest on many radio and TV shows. He did over 200 interviews in the first few months.
As I mentioned above, as a result of Dave Carroll's single bad experience, United lost over $180 million dollars within three to four weeks of the videos release. Accepting the blame would have only cost United $1,200 and probably would have kept Dave a loyal customer.
So lets do our best to beat out human nature, and accept responsibility for our actions. I have a feeling that you will not regret it.
By Joe Haycock
VP of Professional Development