Reputation Risk – Creeping Out Your Customers

Erik Bernstein crisis management, Crisis Prevention, public relations, reputation management Leave a Comment

Are companies going too far in trying to provide the ultimate customer experience?

Would it creep you out if your flight attendant walked up to you and wished you a happy birthday out of the blue? That’s precisely what a Gawker article claims is happening on United Airlines thanks to an app loaded on the iPhones each and every one of them carries on flights. An unidentified inside source allegedy told Gawker the program grants all flight attendants one-touch access to passenger information including full travel itinerary, date of birth, home address, and anything else provided in the process of booking their flight.

Gawker reached out to United, who issued this part-explanation, part-denial statement in return:

Flight attendants have recognized milestones of our most frequent travelers, including birthdays or achievement of million-miler status, for many years, and customer feedback has been consistently positive. Enabling them to access those milestones via their handheld devices simply makes the process easier, and we are certain customers will continue to appreciate the recognition that they have come to expect given their loyalty.

The following link will take you to a conversation on the frequent-flyer forum FlyerTalk, where customers express how much they enjoy United recognizing milestones like birthdays.

While Gawker’s anonymous source has to be taken with a grain of salt until further proof appears, the idea of having very personal information about customers preloaded isn’t unique to United. Hotel chains, car services, and other players in the hospitality field are going further and further in an effort to distinguish themselves from the competition, taking to social media or otherwise seeking out information about habits and preferences that go well beyond what a good segment of the population is comfortable with.

When it comes to personal information you really must be cautious about how it’s used, who has access, and where it’s stored. While some would be tickled to be randomly congratulated on a birthday, asked about their trip to X location, or find pictures of their family already arranged in a room they’ve booked, others would be supremely creeped out to have their information viewed and used without permission. Thinking of this a host of questions come to mind. Who can see the information? How secure are the devices it’s stored on? What about fear of reprisal from staffers who were reported to their own management for issues?

Opening up this type of freedom to seek out and use private information can be used to create an incredible experience, but it can open up a serious can of worms as well. This trend is certainly one to watch, as no matter how carefully its implemented it seems custom built to create crises along the way.

Erik & Jonathan Bernstein

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