A customer’s complaint and a brand’s nightmare: The ethics of lost luggage

My mother always told me that it takes a lifetime to build a reputation but you can lose it in a minute (a Will Rogers quote, as it turns out). She was right — and the same applies to businesses.

You may remember this customer who brought negative attention to a brand.

British Airways Twitter complaint

Yes, that’s a promoted tweet. This guy was so angered by British Airways’ customer service that he actually paid to have more people see his complaint. It took British Airways eight hours to respond, explaining that their Twitter account was managed only during certain hours.  (Note: Although I don’t remember checking at the time, I’ve checked now, and British Airways does have management hours listed in its Twitter bio.)

Ultimately, everything turned out OK: The brand apologized and found the guy’s bags (which is what started the whole thing). But even though it’s basically over (although is anything really ever over on the internet?), let’s rehash things for ethics’ sake.

Was it ethical for the customer to buy a promoted tweet to air his grievances?

I actually think this may have been a little unfair. Did HVSVN try any other avenues prior to paying for the promotion? I think any dissatisfied customer should at least give a brand a chance to set things right before blasting them to their entire follower base — i.e., going the public humiliation route right out of the gate.  Try tweeting (without any paid promotion) at them, or Facebook messaging them, or filling out a standard complaint or contact form first. If you get ignored for hours or days or weeks (depending on your level of patience), by all means, go all out airing your dirty laundry.

What’s the ethical way for British Airways to react?

Reply quickly, even if you don’t have all the answers yet. It’s OK to say, “We are so sorry your luggage is not in your hands as it should be. We’re tracking it down, and we’ll keep in touch.” That’s way more comforting than silence.

Next, do something. Find the luggage and get it to the owner as quickly as possible. It’s his luggage; you lost it. It’s your responsibility to make it right, all the while communicating with the customer.

Some of you may disagree, but I think that’s where the company’s ethical duties end. If you find the luggage and it’s in one piece, you get it back to the customer and apologize for the inconvenience. But, one step further would certainly help mend the damaged relationship as well as build trust among your other followers.

Put yourself back in the customer’s shoes. You’re mad that the airline lost your luggage. But when you complained, they answered; they found the luggage and overnighted it to you; they apologized and offered you an incentive to come back — a free checked bag, an upgrade to first-class or even a free flight. Would you fly with them again? (I would.)


2 thoughts on “A customer’s complaint and a brand’s nightmare: The ethics of lost luggage”

  1. Hi Julie,

    I really liked the ideas you came up with to handle Dave’s situation. I think the best thing you “did” was acknowledge him as soon as you learned about the video. The key with content like this is to stop the bleeding before it gets bad. By addressing the issue you are practicing the first step in effective reputation management. I also like that you made it right by compensating Dave. But I think the most important thing you did was follow up with him. As with any business the fortune is in the follow up. Taking the extra effort can change a negative experience into a positive relationship with a customer. Great post!

  2. What I would really like to know is if airlines are the one who hire luggage handlers or if the airport does. Who really does the hiring of these workers? I don’t know if replacing every bag is a good idea, I feel like scams could start to happen. But I agree with you that having an incentive for them to come back is a great idea. I think I would be happy with customer service if they did everything possible to right the wrong.

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