Contracting in the Age of Transparency

April 17, 2017
You and your technicians need to act at all times as tough you are on camera, because you just might be.

By now, everyone has heard of the public relations disaster that occurred when a passenger was forcibly dragged off a United Airlines flight. It never had to happen and an HVAC version does not need to happen to you when you follow these guidelines.

Every Company is At Risk
While it might be hard to imagine a United level PR disaster striking a contracting company, United didn’t think it could happen to them either. A utility didn’t imagine one of their technicians would swing a monkey wrench at a family dog when the dog approached him after the tech entered the back yard, yet it was caught on the home security cameras and sprayed across the Internet.

We Live in an Age of Transparency
Everyone with a smart phone has a video camera at the ready.  Even when no one’s around, you might be caught by a doorbell camera or a security camera. Get mad at a customer who stiffed you and kick his front door out of exasperation and you might see yourself spread across social media as a berserk contractor. You and your technicians need to act at all times as tough you are on camera, because you just might be.

Culture is Everything
United, it seems, has a culture problem.  There were numerous opportunities for United employees to step up and prevent things from getting out of hand.  This includes the flight attendants and the pilots. Yet, the all stood by. When United management was unapologetic, including a letter from the CEO to his employees, it seemed obvious that the airline lacks a customer centered culture.  Culture starts at the top and gets reflected down the organization.  What is your culture?

When You Screw Up, Own Up
United made things worse by not falling on their sword immediately. Instead, they looked defensive and clueless.  Take responsibility for your mistakes fast. In fact, over respond. People will forgive you if you respond well and quickly.

The Internet Makes Screw Ups Eternal
In 2009, United baggage handlers broke a passenger’s Taylor guitar. After nine months of fighting the airline and getting nowhere, the passenger made a music video, “United Breaks Guitars.”  It went viral. It’s still out there. It’s still getting views. It’s still damaging United. In contrast to United, Taylor Guitars gave the passenger a new guitar and made their own two minute video about it. It was PR genius.

Think Outside the Box
The United flight was scheduled to depart at 5:40 p.m. Additional flights were available later that night and early the next morning. Not all of them were on United and not all were direct. Was there a possibility of putting the passenger or crew members who were bumping them on a different carrier? While companies should be procedure driven, they shouldn’t be preclude people’s ability to think.

Empower Your Front Line Personnel
United’s front line personnel were likely not empowered. Otherwise, they could have bumped the voucher amount up until someone accepted it. Plus, they likely would have intervened when airport security got carried away by dragging a passenger out of his seat and down the aisle.

Guard Your Brand
Ironically, the plane was not even a United Airlines plane. It was operated by Republic Airways under the United brand. Republic also operates planes for American and Delta. Republic appears to hire their own flight attendants and pilots, so it’s possible the none of the employees were even United employees. Does this mean United is getting hammered over a subcontractor?  Be careful who you let work under your brand. 

Just Do The Right Thing
Ultimately, this incident would not have blown up if people would have simply done the right thing – not the legal thing, the right thing.  There are a lot of contractors who follow this precept. Do the right thing, always, and you never need to apologize for it.

Do you need a quality, FREE speaker for your contractor group?  Call the Service Roundtable at 877.262.3341 or visit and click on the “Need a Speaker?” link.

About the Author

Matt Michel | Chief Executive Officer

Matt Michel was a co-founder and CEO of the Service Roundtable ( The Service Roundtable is an organization founded to help contractors improve their sales, marketing, operations, and profitability. The Service Nation Alliance is a part of this overall organization. Matt was inducted into the Contracting Business HVAC Hall of Fame in 2015. He is now an author and rancher.