Can Good Come from Bad? Yes, at United Airlines.


Share on LinkedIn

Can good come from bad?  The answer is yes at United Airlines.

Many of you know about the media frenzy that followed Dave Carroll’s visit to the RightNow User Summit last fall.  The story of United Airlines losing his luggage while he was on his way to speak to 750 customer service executives about them breaking his guitar just had too much irony not to get major media attention.  Within 48 hours, a thousand tweets had broadcast the event and the story had appeared on the cover of the New York Times business section and CNN – 27 major media hits in total.

The great news is that good can come from bad.

Every organization occasionally misses customer expectations; however, rapid, sincere intervention often results in higher customer loyalty than if the problem had never occurred in the first place.  So when things go wrong, we are really being presented with opportunities to build customer loyalty.

This week United Airlines came through with flying colors for me.

On Thursday I was flying from Denver to Washington Dulles on United flight 932.  I upgraded to the last seat in business class, but when it came time for meals they had run out of my selection.  Rather than the expected, “that’s your tough luck”, the flight Purser Wendy Zazzero (file 133825) took the time to personally come and apologize to me, kneeling down next to my aisle seat so she could look me straight in the eye.  She even sweetened the apology with a free bar of Ghirardelli chocolate and an offer of anything from their snack box collection. We agreed on a settlement, but then she returned with an unopened bottle of the wine I was drinking as a thank you for accepting the alternative meal.

I was impressed.  She had done everything right.  Certainly it would have been better if my meal had been there, but she could not magically make another meal appear.  What she did do was recognize she had an issue, own the problem, apologize and use the authority she had to make it right to the best of her ability. I am more apt to pick United next time I travel, because they care.

Coincidentally, this week I have a meeting with the SVP of Customer Care at United Airlines.  Maybe something good will come from the whole Dave Carroll episode.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Greg Gianforte
RightNow Technologies
A serial entrepreneur, Greg founded RightNow in 1997 and took the company public in 2004 with one of that year's most successful initial public offerings. Greg has grown RightNow to more than 700 employees worldwide and more than $1 million in revenue.


  1. Greg, I’m glad to hear of your positive experience with UAL.

    It’s unfortunate but it seem more likely for people to complain about bad experiences than to praise the good ones.

    Your experience is a good example that even a mistake can turn into a good publicity. Even the best run businesses make mistakes.

    My sense of it is that United is trying to make improvements–I’ve noticed some changes in recent years. But the problems are massive and will take strong leadership to change the culture, processes, etc.

    Good luck with your meeting. I hope you can help them keep moving in the right direction. It certainly would be a great turnaround story if UAL could become a customer experience leader in the years ahead.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here