I'm guessing most people know about the story of the man being dragged off a United Airlines plane, so I'm not going to go into the details of that or the legal ramifications.
Instead, let's look at it from a branding perspective, as it offers a few juicy pointers. It's been called a 'PR disaster', along with the decision to not allow a young girl to fly a few months ago because she apparently breached their dress code by wearing leggings.
PR, as you know, is Public Relations, and United don't seem very good at it. It's one part of brand image - what people think of your company - and United don't seem to be excelling in that department either.
After the Vietnamese American doctor was dragged away bloodied and bruised, United's CEO called it a "re-accommodation of passengers", presumably in a similar way that getting your head kicked in is a "redistribution of facial features."
Such corporate-speak is rarely welcomed, especially in the wake of high-profile negative publicity. He did backtrack, but the damage had been done.
So here's where we can learn a few things to align your brand image with your brand identity (what you want people to think about your company).
1) Keep your brand identity and your brand image aligned
The official slogan of United (at the moment) is "Fly the Friendly Skies".
Dragging somebody off a plane (whatever the reason) isn't very friendly.
Denying passage to a young customer is not very friendly (especially when it's very, very pedantic).
If you're claiming to be friendly, then be friendly. If you're claiming to be professional, then be professional. The same goes with other common adjectives for businesses: efficient, caring, fast, effective, creative, etc.
Having a brand identity that's completely different to your brand image is a recipe for disaster.
2) Make sure everybody knows, and buys into, your brand identity
Using United as the example, this means setting a company-wide goal of keeping people happy (the friendly part), informed and valued, from the part-time staff right up to the CEO.
If you're rude to your staff, or treat them like crap, they're unlikely to be invested in wanting the company to excel beyond keeping their jobs.
They're the ones meeting the customers. They're the true public face of the company.
3) Speak human
Whether you're writing a training manual, taking bookings, giving a speech, or responding to a PR crisis, speak human.
The more you use corporate jargon or euphemisms, the more likely you are to piss off and alienate your customers.
If you make mistakes, apologize. Sincerely.
4) Listen and act
Don't just say "we've listened to your concerns" and do bugger all. Act.
If you think your policies need changing, then show that you've changed them.
Thank people for bringing these things to light and assure them you'll act accordingly again in the future.
5) Be a customer
Would you pay for your company's product or service?
Do you think that the way your company presents itself is the way it's seen by the public?
Seeing things from a customer's point of view can be very eye-opening and lead to some positive changes.
Please share your thoughts or any other suggestions you can think of.