Willing to Fly the 737 Max? Boeing’s Missteps May Damage Their Brand

When a company is forced to navigate choppy waters, a single mistake can undermine a brand’s credibility and disheartened customers may take the opportunity to turn to competitors. Boeing is not the first company to fail when responding to a negative situation. However, keeping important information from the public and the FAA on two separate occasions definitely helped turn public perception against the company, especially as more details concerning the safety of flight crews and passengers come to light. How did Boeing stumble and could their chosen route of action influence their brand?

Boeing and the 737 Max

Boeing faces serious credibility problems after their response to two deadly crashes involving the 737 Max plane: the first occurring in Indonesia and the second happening en route to Nairobi. A misstep was made when only a partial picture was disclosed by Boeing after the Lion Air crash. After the second crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight, six weeks elapsed before Boeing finally related the underlying software issue to the public and to the FAA. As a result, Boeing faces an uphill battle when meeting with influential union members representing flight attendants. The head of the union, Sara Nelson, sharing that she does not feel confident in telling travelers and flight attendants to fly on the 737 Max until certain conditions are met.

Boeing is concerned about the mark left on their reputation as it faces multiple federal investigations and lawsuits. The company has focused its public relations strategy on passengers as it waits for the decision that will allow the Max to return to commercial service. Transparency and full accountability need to be improved in order to reassure the flying public and secure the support of pilots and flight attendants.

Lessons to Be Learned

There was a concerning lack of communication between airlines, pilots and regulators about the software issue that directly affected the operation of the 737 Max planes and the safety of its passengers. The company was not forthcoming with pilots about how the basic system and some automatic features operated. It was only after the Lion Air accident that regulators and some pilots were informed that the key cockpit warning light did not operate unless the airline had also purchased the angle of attack indicator.

When it comes to safety, getting all the details to your customers is paramount. Takeaways that reflect the need for honesty and transparency in a company include:

  1. Explain the reason for launch delays. Customers would rather experience a delay with the understanding that safety is a priority for a company.
  2. Share information as soon as possible. When one leg of a trip is delayed, and a passenger is forced to reschedule their plans, arrange for accommodations. To maintain goodwill, avoid waiting until the last possible moment to tell customers of an issue.
  3. Plan ahead to maintain integrity. With so much invested in attracting and cultivating long-term relationships with customers, a plan for potential issues needs to be in place so communication can be transparent when problems arise.

Think from your customers’ point of view. What would you, as a customer, need to know in order to mitigate any potential issues arising from a partner’s shortcomings? As an airline or pilot, wouldn’t you feel it a priority to know about any system updates or faulty systems that could compromise the safety of your passengers and crew?

Plan for Tough Situations

B2B and B2C companies need to be customer-centric and offer clarity when situations come up to allow for adjustments. This can help a company maintain a positive impression and protect their brand.

What do people say about you when you are not around? Whatever it is, that is your brand. After all, your brand identity is built by your actions and how you deliver, not on your stated values. The response or lack thereof to a serious situation is a reflection of a company’s core values and whether it deserves to be trusted — or not.