Here's a cautionary tale of why a business can never afford to 'dis a customer; not even a nice, unassuming old lady from Panama City Beach, Florida.
There's a thing called the Internet and her daughter just might be a professional blogger.
If that's the case, you could be looking at some bad PR that will stick to your shoe like you know what; the reason being that nothing really ever goes away online. Even when pages get taken down, there's that thing called 'cache' that lingers.
I'm going to take the high road and not name the airline. But, my mama got treated terribly this week while attempting to fly home from Dallas and I am fuming.
1.) First, she got shaken down for an extra $15 at the gate to check her carry-on bag (yes, I said CARRY-ON) because it didn't fit in the overhead compartment of the little regional jet assigned to her flight. Snoopy (a.k.a. "The Red Barron") and his retro-fitted flying dog house has more carry-on space per passenger.
How was she supposed to know? Yes folks, the major airlines are so desperate to make ends meet that they are turning grandmothers upside down by their heels during pre-boarding and catching what falls out of their pockets to create an extra revenue stream. For years, I've called the major airlines busses with wings. I want to go on record and apologize to Greyhound.
2.) The flight was overbooked and no one volunteered to take a later plane. My mother was racing home to take her dog in for surgery for a malignant cancer the next morning. Even after she explained this, they bumped her anyway.
3.) They couldn't be bothered to take her bag off the plane and return it to her (not to mention return her $15 bucks). As the plane taxied away out of sight, it took her prescription drugs with it. Have I mentioned my mother is turning 70 in two months? She doesn't die her hair anymore. I'm sure it was obvious to the senior-hating, dog-lover hating ground crew that she's an elder; just not theirs. Perhaps they don't have mamas themselves. Perhaps they received the gift of life through sporulation or regeneration, instead.
4.) Though this all happened at 3:45 in the afternoon at one of the busiest airports in the United States on a day of crystal blue skies for perfect on-time flying, there was not another spot on another flight to get her anywhere near Northwest Florida until the following day. At that, they flew her into the closest location; Mobile, Alabama. The one-way rental car cost her $150 for the three hour drive home.
5.) They did put her up at the Airport Marriott and sent her off to bed that evening with a whopping $15 dinner voucher. It's too bad the hotel would not accept it to help pay off the $23 tab for the sandwich and bottled water she ordered from room service.
Back to the cautionary tale part of this...
The World Wide Web is a world wide web of voices. For every IP address, there's a voice. And there are literally millions of us. Anyone, and more importantly everyone, has the power to flambe' your company with bad worth of mouth testimonials on review sites and message boards, to name just a few options. Some of us blog and some of us are up to a zillion friends on Facebook, Plaxo, LinkedIn and/or MySpace (imagine a zillion friends telling two friends who tell two friends who tell two more friends, etc. etc.).
Welcome to Bad PR 2.0
PR people literally are all a-Twitter about the potential high payoff of using social networking sites and other Web 2.0 Jedi mind tricks to juice up their campaigns.
I would just like to remind them that when you live by the sword, you die by the sword. If you want to practice preventative crisis communications management, you may want to invest less in text messaging campaigns and go back to the basics; customer service.
P.S. If you work in PR or corporate communications for a major airline, please send this link to your pointy-headed CEO. If you are a business traveler with an out-of-town meeting to go to anytime soon, do me a favor and avenge my mom; cancel your airline ticket and web conference instead. Last but not least; if you know my mother, please don't mention I revealed her age on Inc.com.
Or, I'll be wishing that I was the one sporulated 44 years ago.
Last updated: Mar 18, 2009
RENEE ORICCHIO is a technology writer and former supervising news producer for CNN Financial News. She has been covering the computer industry since 1987. @oricchio