Is your brand a “bad boy?” 3 signs you might be breaking hearts

You know the type. They knock you off your feet and you’re hooked. They come on all strong with promises of love. And yet, the reality of dating these bad boys (or gals, for that matter) falls so short of your dreams. They are always late. They never call when they say they will. And they continue to betray your trust and hurt you – but when they do, they always apologize in some grand style that you can’t help but falling for their charms once again. Stuck in this cycle, you begin to wonder if maybe it’s just easier to accept this unhealthy relationship because you’re tired, it’s comfortable and you just don’t want to be alone.

But did your mama ever warn you about those bad boy brands?

Oh, they exist. You know they do. And based on the last few years of bad experiences with United Airlines, an airline I used to adore, I’ve come to realize how easy it is to wake up one day and realize you’re in bed with a bad brand….and you know you’re going to come back again.

Here are 3 signs you are in a relationship with a bad brand. Or worse, that your business, organization or project is doing this to your poor customers:


  • You’re a smooth talker and sharp dresser – but you break your promises: United makes some pretty great ads and videos touting their renewed commitment to serving their customers. Each flight, you are forced to watch smiling, happy real-life employees talk about their job as more of a calling in caring for you like a mother hen. The CEO, with his silver-fox haircut and dazzling smiles reinforces how much United has improved in customer service over the years. Yes, they talk a good game, but after that screen goes dark, you are back to surly gate agents, chaotic ticket counters and a complete lack of respect of information. Good-hearted brands walk their talk. Recently, I witnessed a ticket counter worker refuse to help a poor non-English speaking passenger during a chaotic cancellation fiasco at SFO. She waved him away and barked quick and incoherent orders at him that even I, a native English speaker, couldn’t understand. It bordered on racism. And the other night, we had a horrendous experience with delayed flights at Orange County airport, where they kept making us go back and forth between gates, confused 2 SF-bound flights,  and had no clear information – and then the gate agents had the nerve to get snitty when people who had gone beyond the bounds of patience got anxious and frustrated. Like a bad boy, they made us feel like it was our fault. As if we had no right to be upset.
  • You make the grand gestures – but you keep breaking hearts: After my delayed flight fiasco last week, the crew and in-flight team finally apologized over and over again (“Baby, I’m so sorry. I swear I’ll never do it again!”). We received follow up emails routing us to a special website for our feedback and also offering some sort of compensation. Yes, I took them up on their offer for 3,000 bonus miles. But if this kind of behavior were not par for the course with them, I might be more willing to talk about how delightful was this gesture. Instead, I know they are just slapping a Band-Aid on the problems and that they tried to buy my loyalty and silence rather than earn it. Make-up gestures only work when they are rarely needed, not when they are the rule. Nice try, but too little too late.
  • You pretend you’re listening – but you’re not: Tweet @united if you ever get a chance. I’m not sure how they run their social media, but the first time I ever did this, I got a reply that was so obviously automated, it was laughable. It didn’t even address my original Tweet topic. Fast forward to sharing my fiasco last week and… silence. Not even the automated garbage this time. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Do the same thing with airlines like Jet Blue or Virgin America and real people with real personalities are there to serve, responding right away to see what they can do. And they actually DO SOMETHING. Don’t bother playing the social media game if you have bots replying to people’s issues. It takes more than opening a Twitter account to say you’re engaged effectively in social media. How do big brands with the kind of resources that United has still not get this?

I always had a special place in my heart for United, as they were my first airline loyalty program. When I was a consultant for a Big 6 firm right out of college, I traveled with them every single week and got to enjoy the status perks that came along with that. Plus, I live in San Francisco, which is one of their hubs. But that brand love has been eroded by their bad behavior over the last ten years to the point that I don’t believe a word their CEO says. Sure, heroic acts of kindness from individual workers over the years has helped keep me “on the hook” and that is why I just can’t seem to say goodbye – plus being in a hub city, I’m often forced to fly with them.

But is that really the brand you want? One in which your customers are just “hanging on” and settling for the abuse until a better option comes along?

Now it’s your turn! What “bad boy” brands have you experienced? What do you do to ensure your brand doesn’t turn into a bad boy itself? Please share in the Comments!

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