#18 – United Airlines offering you $10k, ESPN the worldwide leader in reputation, and what was Unroll.me thinking?

#18 – United Airlines offering you $10k, ESPN the worldwide leader in reputation, and what was Unroll.me thinking?


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We’re talking United Airlines, ESPN, and Unroll.me this week.

Each week, Erin Jones and I take a look at the most interesting reputation management stories, answer your questions, and share valuable ORM tactics. In this week’s episode:

  • United Airlines rolls out an impressive list of customer policy changes. Is it enough?
  • ESPN lays off 100+ people but still keeps its reputation in tact. We discuss how they did it.
  • Unroll.me decided it would be smart to sell customer data to Uber. Uber!

If you have a question you would like us to tackle, please leave a comment below or on my Facebook Page.

Transcript (forgive us for any typos):

Andy Beal: Welcome back, and we are talking about United Airlines again, but hopefully in a positive way. They’ve come out with their 10-point plan. Those of you who had tuned in a couple of weeks ago, you recall that they were going to put together a plan of how to ensure that basically they don’t beat up passengers going forward. They promised it by the end of the month, and they’re a few days early, and they’ve come out with this 10-point plan change to their customer policies to try and ensure that we’re all treated a little bit better.

Erin Jones is with me, and Erin’s had a chance to take a look at it. What jumps out at you, Erin, from this plan?

Erin Jones: You know, the first thing that I really liked seeing about this plan is that it doesn’t look like a fluff list to me. It looks like they came up with actionable items for this list that are measurable and that people can really count on for them to follow through with. I hope that they do follow through with it, you know, providing additional training annually. They didn’t just say, oh, well we’re going to do some training, but keep it really nebulous, they actually said we’re going to do this annually to enhance their skills and equip them for handling issues.

This is starting in August so I feel like they did a really good job of making sure that everything they put on this list was pretty clearly defined and something that can be acted upon.

Andy Beal: Yeah, I agree totally. In fact, it’s ashamed that we had to have a passenger get beaten up, but I think this is going to be really good for passengers going forward, and hopefully other airlines will adopt this. Just a few things that jumped out at me, and if in case you’ve not seen it. So basically, if you’ve already been seated, you won’t ever get booted now. They’re going to look for volunteers while you’re seated at the gate and not on the airplane. They’ve increased incentives to volunteer up to $10,000, and as Erin said, more training, more empowerment for the gate agents and flight attendants.

One of the things that really jumped out at me is the new check-in process. They’re actually going to start asking passengers, hey, if we need volunteers, are you interested, and if so, how much would you be looking to get from us in order to give up your seat? So that’s a great way to do it. Oh my gosh, you’re kind of almost … You’re gambling a little bit, but you can say, “Yeah, sure, you give me $3,000, and if you need a seat, I’ll give up my seat,” and then that allows almost like a blind auction for United to say, okay, well these five people that have offered to give up their seat, none of them know what each one wanted, but this guy only wanted $500, so hey, he’s the lucky winner.

Erin Jones: Yeah, and I love that if people … I’m hoping it will work in a way that if people are checking in from home or from their hotel, they may actually know that they’re being moved before they get all their stuff down to the airport and go through the hassle of getting down there.

It wasn’t really clear to me if it were the early online check-in or if it were when they were actually checking in at the airport.

Andy Beal: Yeah, they said either … I think it did allude to the fact that the option would be available from the app, which kind of implies that, like you said, if you checked in at the hotel, you’re getting ready to leave, and you say, hey, you want to give up your seat, and if United is going to do a better job of identifying that a plane is overbooked earlier and making sure their employees checked in earlier, they might have a better chance of actually saying, well in that case, hey, you just said you’d give up your seat. Stay where you are because we’re going to put you on the four o’clock flight, give you your $500, and there’s no need for you to rush to the airport right now.

Erin Jones: I think it’s a great idea, especially if I’m sitting at the beach, and they tell me I don’t have to leave the beach as early? I’m probably going to agree to do it.

Another thing I liked is that they’re looking at traditional re-booking numbers, the flights that people are less likely to agree to rebook on, and working to not oversell those specific flights. So my thought would probably be more the business commuter flights that they know these people are in a time crunch, and they need to get on their plane, they’re going to try not to oversell those flights as much, which I thought was a really good gesture as well.

Andy Beal: I agree, and you know, this is all positive stuff for United. It doesn’t take away from the issue that we faced and the poor guy that got beaten up; however, going forward, hopefully they’re going to realize this is not just pandering to the public, but this is actually going to prevent them facing a similar reputation attack because one of the other things is they’re not going to use law enforcement to drag somebody off a plan unless they’ve done something wrong. In this case, they didn’t do something wrong, so going forward, hey, it’s a negotiation, it’s not being handcuffed and dragged and bloodied and whatever.

So hopefully they realize that this is not just a mea culpa of like, okay, we’re sorry and here’s the sentence that we’re going to impose on ourselves. This is all things that should really help United to have a better reputation going forward.

Erin Jones: Definitely. Also, for those of us who remember the United breaks guitar video, they made a baggage policy as well, so if they lose your bag, they’re automatically going to give you $1,500 for the bag and its contents. No questions. No haggling. I think that this is a really good way to get somebody who’s probably really, really upset to settle down a little bit and see that they’re doing their best to not lose bags because they don’t want to lose that $1,500, but if they do, they’re going to do what they can to make it right before it escalates.

Andy Beal: Now they may have come out with this policy maybe a day too soon, because also in the news, a giant bunny, like one of the largest in the world, died on a recent flight, and so they’re going to have to get through that.

So far, it doesn’t look like it’s as big of an issue because, as we said before, United has raised the bar on outrage so that apparently killing the loved pet is something that’s not worthy of everybody getting fired up over, but I think they’re probably going to have to go back and again, look at this and say, well, how do we treat pets going forward? How do we treat animals on our flights because yeah, somebody lost a valuable pet, and they need to take that into account going forward and do something for that.

Erin Jones: Agreed. I’ve heard that this is a problem on many airlines, that if the animal doesn’t fit under the seat in front of you in the cabin with you, that there’s a lot of distress that happens wherever they’re keeping the kennel, the animals.

Andy Beal: True. True, yeah.

Erin Jones: This is something that I know a lot of animal rights people would like to see changed, that they’ve been working on for years, so maybe this is newsworthy enough that United and other airlines will look at how they’re transporting animals as well.

Andy Beal: Right. I mean, they can’t even promise that human passengers are going to make it safely to their destination without getting hurt, so I think for the time being, stay away from any kind of shipment of pets or valuable animals like that, and just not. So let’s move on. I think-

I want to talk a little bit about ESPN because they had another round of layoffs. I think they had some a couple of years ago, but they had over a hundred people laid off, most of which were front-facing journalists and anchors and people that you would actually see on the your TV screen.

What was really interesting to me, Erin, is that pretty much to a person, well, I didn’t see any, no negativity from those laid off. No attacks, no criticism. Everybody praised ESPN as an employer. It’s probably got a lot to do with great working conditions that they had there, and then also it looks like they were all getting great severance packages, so there’s a lot to be learned here just from how you can handle layoffs and do the right thing.

Erin Jones: I agree. This has been fascinating to watch. There have been no diva moments. There have been no screaming and outrage trying to slam ESPN. Are we growing up as … Is our Twitter culture growing up a little bit in realizing it’s okay to be gracious? I don’t know.

Andy Beal: Well. Okay, so let’s examine it, right? If you think about it, I would like to think that ESPN just had a really good culture and took really good care of their employees. Let’s hope that that’s the case, right?

However, you could look at this from a personal reputation perspective, and those that are getting laid off, if you start attacking your previous employer when you’re a public figure, that kind of makes you somewhat toxic and perhaps Fox Sports or one of these other networks is going to say, you know, you kind of come with a little of baggage here, we don’t want to have that on our payroll.

So by being upbeat and positive and not criticizing ESPN, whether intentionally or not, I wonder if some people are just saying, hey, I want to make sure I look attractive to the next employer?

Erin Jones: I really hope so. It was really refreshing to read through some of these posts and see a lot of the angers and the people that got laid off were really happy for the experience that they were given with ESPN and that they’re looking forward to using it in their further ventures. It was just really nice. It was so different than so much of the climate that we’ve been seeing online and in the news lately that it just felt really refreshing to me.

Andy Beal: Right. And it doesn’t have to be a large company like ESPN. You could be a small mom and pop shop with five to ten employees, and you can still handle a layoff in a positive way. I’ve had to let people go before, and I’ve done my best to say, hey, look, we’re going to give you 60 days’ notice, whatever time off you need to do for job interviews, whatever we can do to help, because just I know from experience that it’s important to not just cut people loose and say, okay, they’re done. that’s not going to hurt us, whatever. We have to lay people off.

But how you treat people when you let them go, that’s a critical time in your business’ reputation, because you do it the wrong way? They’re going to take to Twitter, social media, blog post, and they’re going to disparage you. You do it the right way, and you kind of look at this as in investment in your reputation, and so normally you think about giving a week or two week’s notice and that’s it. Think about, okay, let’s give them 30 days’, 60 days’ notice, even if they’re a contractor.

I’ve done this with contractors. It’s like okay, I’m going to give you 60 days’ notice. Even though you’re at 1099 contractor … Obviously, I don’t say that to them because I don’t want to … I love contractors. That’s the way to go. That’s for another story another time. But it’s like treat them that you would want to be treated, add a little bit extra, and you’re not going to have people all saying bad things about you. You’re going to have a situation like ESPN had where I believe they give them 60 days’ notice, job placement, whatever they needed, and look how well they came out as a public company with people with lots of followers and attention. They laid off over 100 people, and so far they’ve come up unscathed.

Erin Jones: I couldn’t agree more. You hear a lot about people getting laid off and they’re sent packing that afternoon with a box for reasons of company security, and all of a sudden this person who’s worked for you for 10 years is untrustworthy. Companies kind of are covering themselves, assuming the worst, and it doesn’t feel good either either party.

Andy Beal: True.

Erin Jones: So I agree, I think that mutual respect goes a long way, and I think in the broadcasting industry, it is a relatively small family, and it’s nice to see that they’re not just tossing them out in the cold, they’re still treating them with respect and dignity and wishing them the best on their way.

Andy Beal: Right. Right. Good stuff. All right, let’s finish up here with a company I had never heard of but is in the news for all the wrong reasons. It’s a company called Unroll.me, Unroll dot M-E. They’re an email decluttering service, help you kind of clean up your inbox and unsubscribe from stuff, keep it organized, that kind of stuff.

However, they were publicly busted, it you like. It came to light that they were selling anonymized receipts from people that used Lyft, the car service. They were anonymizing the information and then selling the data to Uber. So you’ve got people that are signed up for this service thinking that they’re getting, you know … Email is one of the most private things that we have. They think that they’re getting this service that is secure and private, and then find out that the data is getting sold to Uber, and of all the people to sell data to right now, Uber is not going to be the company that’s going to win you a lot of fans, right Erin?

Erin Jones: Exactly.

Andy Beal: So, I don’t know. The CEO came out and gave us standard non-apology which is like, he basically tried to hide behind the fact that buried in their terms and conditions was the condition that allows them to do this very thing.

But when you’re a company that’s providing this service, and certainly if it’s something like email or telephone or something private like that, your customers are not expecting you to sell that data on top anybody, anonymous or not. So, even if you have it in your terms and conditions, if it is something that is out of the ordinary, it’s going to come back to bite you whether you’ve technically covered your butt or not. This is the kind of stuff your customer base was not expecting, and so now Unroll.me is in all kinds of trouble and getting attacked by lots of their customers.

Erin Jones: And let’s be honest. When you give your customer base the standard “sorry, not sorry” response, and then turn around and say that you’re heartbroken that your customers are unhappy and upset, which is it? Are you not really sorry or is your heart breaking here because you already lost the trust of your users, and now you sound insincere.

Andy Beal: Right. Yeah, because if you were really that worried and upset about it, you wouldn’t do the practice in the first place, right? It’s like, well, how sincere are you when you were collecting money or … I’m assuming they paid for this service. I’ve never used it. But then selling the data at their backend. You have to be transparent in things like that because it’s just something that your customer’s not going to expect.

So if you have something in your service, if you provide a product and there is something that goes on that could potentially come back to hurt you, something that wouldn’t be expected by your customer base, you do have to be more upfront and let them know that this is what we do, but in a way that balances against all the benefits that you provide. And heck, explain that you anonymize the data. Explain that no one will ever know that it is your specific receipt that you aggregate the numbers and it can ever be tracked back to you, because there are plenty of companies out there that do something similar.

When I’m using Google, they’re looking at all of my practices and targeting ads towards me, but the advertisers never specifically know it’s me that’s being targeted, and I’m fine with that. But if I woke up and discovered that I thought that my inbox was completely secure, but then I find out that my data is being sold in the backdoor, I would be upset too.

Erin Jones: It sounds terrifying when you hear it that way. You hear, “My data’s being sold,” and most users don’t know what extend the data’s being utilized for. They don’t know that it’s made anonymous.

One thing I really like to tell people when I’m talking to them about social media is if you don’t pay for a service with money, you’re very likely paying with something else. Usually it’s going to be your user data.

A lot of us in the industry expect that and we know it, but people don’t realize it when they’re signing up for something like this because they think it’s cool, new service, or even those silly quizzes on Facebook or free apps. There’s a reason they’re giving you something to entertain you for free. They’re not getting nothing out of this, and it’s usually not just for them to serve ads anymore. There’s huge money in data mining.

Andy Beal: Yeah. There’s a book on the topic. I can’t remember the name of it, but basically I can condense the book down for you to probably one sentence, and that is if you are not paying for a product, you are the product.

Erin Jones: Exactly.

Andy Beal: You don’t pay for Facebook? You’re the product because your data-

Erin Jones: You’re paying.

Andy Beal: Yeah, exactly because all your information is being sold to advertisers and who knows what else, but if you’re not paying for a product, then sorry, you are the product and you should really lower your expectations because companies have to make money.

Now, sometimes they do the right thing, and sometimes they’re hoping you’ll upgrade to a paid product, but a lot of times, you should assume that if you’re getting something for free, it’s rarely ever for free.

Erin Jones: No, I mean, look at the … On a really basic example of a grocery store member cards that a lot of us use to get discounts. They’re not doing that just to give you a discount. They want to know what people are buying, how often, how much of.

I had a crazy experience yesterday. I went and bought a bag of puppy food at PetSmart. I haven’t bought puppy food in a decade. I put in my little user number to get my points, and by the time I got home, I had an email that said, “Congratulations on your adorable new puppy. Here are five coupons for puppy items.”

Andy Beal: Wow.

Erin Jones: I do this for a living, and it scared me a little bit. They’re on the ball, and I really wasn’t expecting it. Since then, I’ve gotten two more emails. One about training services, and one about the essentials that you might need and some recommendations because you haven’t had a puppy in a long time.

Andy Beal: Right.

Erin Jones: It’s great marketing but they got … They’re getting the info.

Andy Beal: It is, right? Yeah. A lot of these rewards programs, things like that, yeah, you’re getting something back because they’re taking that data and … One of the things I like to do if I sign up for something free is Gmail lets you customize your email address. I can’t remember the exact, but it’s something like Andy Beal and then you do the plus sign and then you can do whatever you want @Gmail.com and just use whatever your normal email is, and it’ll work. It’ll come through to you. But it’ll come through to you as andybeal+coupon@gmail.com.

So if you’re signing up for a service and you’re worried about your data being sold? Go ahead and just add something like that to your email address, and then you’ll be able to keep track of, wait a minute, that email address is being used right now by some random spam that I’m getting. Hey, guess what? They just sold your email address to some partner that they have. It’s a good way to kind of flush out those unscrupulous companies that are taking your information and then selling it all without your permission or maybe hiding it in their terms and conditions like Unroll.me did.

Erin Jones: Right. Another easy way to do it is when they ask for your name, put a different first name in.

Andy Beal: Oh, yeah.

Erin Jones: You can see right away in their form letter, it says, “Hi Fred,” and I go that’s interesting. The only person I told my name was Fred to was Facebook.

Andy Beal: There you go.

Erin Jones: So yeah, couple little tricks to see who’s sending what where. And most of us are willing to pay the price. I want a 50% discount on my crackers this week so you can tell the manufacturer that I bought their crackers, sure.

Andy Beal: Good advice. All right, well that’s consumer shopping advice from myself and Fred.

Andy Beal: On that note, we’ll wrap it up. Thank you all for listening. We hope you’ll leave us a comment or a question either on the blog post or head to Facebook, @AndyBealORM. We appreciate you listening.

And Erin, it’s a pleasure as always. Thank you for joining me again this week.

Erin Jones: Thank you for having me back.

Andy Beal: We’ll be back again at some point, usually weekly unless we get so busy that we kind of have to skip it, but we appreciate you guys sticking with our crazy scheduling, tuning in anyway, and we look forward to chatting with you again.

Thanks a lot and bye-bye.

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