How the United Airlines fiasco effects sales techniques

If you haven’t been living under a rock these last few days, chances are you’ve heard about the United Airlines fiasco. If, in fact, you have been living under a rock, here’s the basics of what happened; a customer who had paid for his seat, was seated in the plane already, and, one would assume, already had his luggage on board, was forcibly, and violently, removed from his flight. All because he refused to ‘volunteer’ to give up his seat to accommodate employees of the company who needed to travel.image

Now, I’m not going into details here as I don’t know them all, but on the face of it, it doesn’t need to be pointed out that this is ridiculously bad customer service, and I’m sure somewhere in the back of their mind, the staff were well aware of this (how could you not be?). However, one thing that is illustrated perfectly here, is the power shift that has occurred in almost every industry. This is something that effects salespeople a lot, and, has been orchestral in helping breed the new, ethical salesperson, and weed out the ones who close using ‘tricks’.

20 years ago, this event may have been swept under the rug, maybe a law suit settled out of court to keep the victim quiet and protect the Airlines’ brand. Yet now, in the technology driven generation we are in, the power has shifted from the multi-billion dollar company to the consumer. This event was filmed by other passengers and shared online over a huge amount of different platforms, to millions of people. Calls to boycott the airline and people swearing off ever using them were everywhere. The share price plummeted overnight.

So how does this effect you, in a sales role?

Now, obviously, you should always strive to have impeccable customer service, and you should never have service so bad that people need to film it and share it online, so that isn’t the take away here. What is, is the shift of power from the company, or salesman, to the clients.

This has two major impacts in a sales role.

Firstly, your interactions with the client.

Information asymmetry

This term, coined by Daniel Pink in his book ‘To Sell is Human’ refers to the age we live in, where a salesperson won’t necessarily have more information than the consumer. In other words, you can be called out on anything you exaggerate about to make a sale. Which I think is perfect. Your client has access to all the information they need just by pulling their phone out of their pocket. They don’t have to take your word that you have this model of BMW at the “best price in town.” They can google competitor pricing while standing in front of you. That car they want to trade in for it? That you said is now selling new for $XXX less than they bought it for, so you can’t possibly give them the amount they want? They can check that instantly and call your bluff. This exact thing happened to my wife and I recently. As this freedom of information, and the ability to share information, becomes more and more prevalent, it will start to weed out the ‘Hard Sell’ salespeople and help grow a new generation of salespeople who genuinely have their clients at front of mind at all times. So, while not directly relating to the United Airlines fiasco, this freedom of information is creating an industry where you can’t afford to use ‘tricks’ to close a deal. Not that you should be in this day and age anyway. Not everyone will fact check what you tell them, but the second one persons does, and find you to be lying, you lose all trust, rapport, and credibility you had built up.

So the information asymmetry, is creating a change in how you close your deals. Helping to create salespeople that have to use more ethical approached, concentrating on building rapport and relationships, rather than tricks to close deals. More on this in future posts.

That’s how the freedom of information has affected the sales side of your role. How does it affect the service side?

Now here’s the kicker, much like the footage of United Airlines dragging a bleeding man down the aisle of their plane to make room for their own employees, a customer that has been lied to, or treated rudely or dishonestly, can now inform an unlimited amount of people online, via review sites, Facebook, and other social media. And rather than lose just the one customer, you’ve potentially lost hundreds.

Now obviously, anyone in a customer service & sales position, should have the customer at front of mind always, and work with them to solve their problems. But I see these reviews, stories on Facebook, and angry customers on sites all too regularly. Which makes me wonder. Do the people serving these customers not understand how good a job they are doing of sending their customers to their competitors? The is an old saying; a happy customer will speak of their experience to 3 people, and an unhappy customer will tell 10. This saying has been quoted so many times that I have no clue where it originally came from, but I can say fairly confidently it is no longer correct. While the average happy customer may well still tell 3 people of their experience, an especially unhappy customer will now often share it online, which could reach 10 people. Or, it could reach 10,000. Quite easily.

Whether the customer is in the wrong or not, a lot of the angry reviews I have seen could have been easily avoided by placating them and providing exceptional service at the crucial point when they are having an issue, great service can not only give your client an amazing experience and have them leave with a smile on their face, it can potentially save your business from a lot of lost customers.

So, although seemingly irrelevant from a sales perspective, United Airlines have been instrumental in highlighting the freedom of information in this world. You, and everyone else, whether in sales or not, could benefit greatly from keeping in mind that 1, don’t try to ‘trick’ clients, almost everything you say can be fact checked, and 2, be careful what you do and how you treat people, a brand destroying review or shocking video can be uploaded to the Internet within seconds.

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