Welcome to the RSR inaugural blog. I thought I might share a few ideas about what I think being on the Right Side of Right entails and welcome your feedback as part of this discussion. One of the main reasons United Breaks Guitars was successful was that it was so clear that I had done nothing inappropriate, I had run the course in United’s “customer service maze” and that the airline’s policies were designed in a such a way as to frustrate and wear people down. Being on the Right Side of Right infers a responsibility on both the customer and the business whose services they are buying.
In the case of UBG I had a responsibility to ensure my guitar was in a durable hard-shell case that could withstand a reasonable amount of handling. I did that and when it got broken, I was well positioned to expect them to do something about it. Had I packed my guitar in a soft-shell case it wouldn’t have been reasonable to assume that it would be returned to me unscathed. I did my part. United did not.
Being on the Right Side of Right doesn’t end there, however. My initial issue with United’s customer service was the disrespect I was shown as an individual by the employees I met at O’Hare. Remember, at this point I didn’t know my guitar had been broken, only that it had been thrown. Their reaction implied that the mishandling of instruments/luggage was “business as usual” and that I should have known that. The temptation to react angrily to the indifference of people in a position to help you can be intense but being on the Right Side of Right demands that you don’t. Instead, ask yourself some questions. Who are these people? Maybe they just had the worst day of their lives or have personal problems that make your issue pale in comparison. Take a second and try to see yourself in them. It doesn’t mean you should accept damage to your property but this awareness that you are connecting to another human being, not unlike yourself in many ways, will help you to not react in a negative way. Confrontation makes matters worse and has no place on the Right Side of Right. In fact being on the Right Side of Right eliminates the need for confrontation because your position is impenetrable, having nothing to defend. Taking responsibility for yourself and working towards reasonable results is what RSR is all about.
In my case I met three people in Chicago within five minutes who shared the same indifferent reaction to my guitar (four or even five people if you include the baggage handlers). My first question was “what kind organization do these people belong to that would allow indifference like this to occur?” The answer came in my next question: “Is there something this company has done in the way they treat their employees that has trickled down to the way they treat me as a customer?” Since July, I have heard from countless United employees and labour groups who would give an emphatic “yes” to that question. It doesn’t excuse what happened to my guitar but by asking those questions, I gained an awareness that helped govern my reaction going forward. There was no justification in ever getting angry at any United employee I would encounter over this. The fact that this indifference was more a rule than an exception told me the problem lay more with the organization and less with any individual. While certain employees could use a little coaching in NOT paying forward the disrespect they feel from their employer, getting angry at them, as a customer, serves no useful purpose.
Instead, I approached every interaction with United as a step in the right direction at getting a fair resolution. My Taylor guitar held a lot of sentimental value to me and so I spent $1200 on restoring it. Ultimately, I didn’t ask United for the replacement cost of the guitar but rather $1200 in flight vouchers to resolve the issue and UBG was born when that offer was rejected and I was told no other offers would be made. I had done all they asked to find a fair solution from the high ground and so I felt justified in getting creative to bring awareness of this problem to those who might agree that United’s policies needed changing. What I didn’t realize was how many like me there are with negative experiences, and how deep the greater problem is with customer experience around the world.
When you operate from the Right Side of Right and you are unable to arrive at a fair resolution it implies the system you are dealing with is broken and in need of a fix. I believe people on the RSR have a responsibility to do what they can to improve that system not only for those following behind but also for themselves because, if we don’t, we’re doomed to repeat the unlearned lessons of the past. The United Breaks Guitars trilogy has helped highlight problems with poor customer experience and raise awareness that good customer service is a necessary component to any successful business. While a lot of effort on the part of many went into the creation of the UBG series, it felt not so much like work because we were operating from the Right Side of Right. In my experience, changing the system is more fruitful than trying to fight it and the only place to do that is from that vantage point.