What can retailers learn from the United fiasco?

Like everybody else, RetailWire panelists enjoyed a chance to speak out about the well-reported United Airlines incident, in which an overbooked passenger was dragged off the plane. The question I try to answer, below, is “What can retailers learn from this?”:

Consumers have choices of retailers, just as they (often) have choices of airlines and other service providers. One of the lessons that any customer-facing business ought to take away from the United fiasco is the need to empower employees to look past the policy manual when it’s time to exercise some good judgment. (In the case of United, it would have been easier to seek volunteers for rebooking instead of working from a mandatory list.) Policies are meant to protect a retailer’s assets and to manage risk, but they shouldn’t turn into a roadblock to common sense.

And the second lesson learned: If your company hasn’t learned the power of viral social networking by now, you’d better get your communications act together fast. Above all, don’t blame the consumer for your own missteps.

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