United Airlines screwed up bad.
In the spring of 2008, Dave Carrol flew United Airlines to a gig with his band, Sons of Maxwell. His expensive Taylor guitar ended up broken at the hand of United employees and the airline.
At that point, they had two options:
Option A – Seize the defect
Cost: $3000 and a nice follow up phone call or email.
Impact: Create a positive story and a customer evangelist.
Option B – Ignore it. Offer no compensation or explanation. Hope it goes away.
Cost: $0. Lots of time spent responding to repeated complaints.
Impact: 3.2 million views of a hilarious, viral video trashing United’s brand.
There are two lessons here.
1) Put the customer first, like Zappos, JetBlue and Disney.
2) When you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. But seize the opportunity. Rectify the mistake, quickly and generously.
You don’t control your brand, but if you take care of your customers, they’ll take care of your brand.