Apology Accepted, United

Posted on June 13, 2017 by Nate Regier / 3 comments
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Today I received a personal apology from United Airlines’ CEO, Oscar Munoz. If you have flown United, you probably got one too.

I frequently fly United, and was shocked by the recent event of a passenger being forcibly removed from an overbooked flight. Following that I was disappointed by United’s response to the event. I’ll admit, I’ve fantasized about what I would have done in that situation and what advice I’d give United if they asked.

The letter I got today is what I’ve been waiting for. A real apology. It uses the principles of Compassionate Accountability, and almost exactly adheres to the four steps for an effective apology I described in a post on the topic last year. Here are the steps, what Mr. Munoz said to me, and my reactions.

Step 1: Share your feelings

“We can never say we are sorry enough for what occurred, but we also know meaningful actions will speak louder than words.”

I appreciate this, and I would really like to hear how you, Oscar, actually feel about this. Are you embarrassed? Ashamed? Anxious? Sad? Get honest and transparent with me.

Step 2: Identify your behavior and how it caused harm

Earlier this month, we broke that trust when a passenger was forcibly removed from one of our planes….It happened because our corporate policies were placed ahead of our shared values. Our procedures got in the way of our employees doing what they know is right.”

Thank you. This is important because if you don’t know what you did, why it happened, and how your behavior caused harm, you can’t make meaningful change.

Step 3: Make it right

“..we will no longer ask law enforcement to remove customers from a flight and customers will not be required to give up their seat once on board.”

“We will increase incentives for voluntary rebooking up to $10,000 and will be eliminating the red tape on permanently lost bags with a new “no-questions-asked” $1,500 reimbursement policy.”

Specific actions that show you intend to change your behavior are critical. Thank you United.

Step 4: Be receptive

“I have found myself reflecting more broadly on the role we play and the responsibilities we have to you and the communities we serve.”

I’m glad this experience is inviting United to step back and reflect. Even better, I’d like to know what’s going on with you personally? Any transformation on the inside that would give us confidence you are changing for the better? I would have also appreciated an invitation to share my feelings, ideas, and beliefs about what United can do to improve. A real apology reactively AND proactively takes into account the other person’s feelings and experience.

My wish for United and Mr. Munoz is that this experience has helped them recognize that no matter how big you get, you are still dealing with real people who have real feelings. This is a relationship business.

Trust is built by answering two questions every day, in every interaction.

Am safe with you?

Can count on you?

I will fly United again, and I look forward to struggling with you, Mr. Munoz, to turn this mistake into a stepping stone for success.

Check out this fun site analyzing apologies.

Conflict without Casualties—Mobile, Tablet and PrintJoin the Compassionate Accountability movement with my new book, Conflict Without Casualties.

Inside…the template for making a better apology.

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Stephen Griffith
Posted on May 3, 2017

Nate, I appreciate your thoughts very much. I also received the email from Mr. Munoz, and had much the same, positive reaction – positive on the whole, and yet wishing for just a bit more. After all, if he has his staff take the extra data merge step of personalizing the email with my name – “Dear Rev. Griffith, I’m writing to you personally to let you know ….” – it would be nice to see inside him as a person.

I, too, anguished about whether and how I would bring myself to fly United again. I felt much better after receiving the letter. That’s what a genuine apology can do. It honors the relationship and seek to mend it, even if it’s not really a personal relationship. Company-customer relationships are real and important!

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Ilona from Sydney
Posted on May 3, 2017

Great example! It is really refreshing to see a big company taking the right steps.

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Robert Cugno
Posted on May 11, 2017

Nate thank you for bringing my attention to the 4-steps of an effective apology. I have always known these are the apology process BUT I have never stopped to think of it as a process…. It is not often I read a blog and walk away with a real insight. Thank you…..

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