The airline industry has been having a pretty bad couple of weeks. First it was a viral video of Dr. David Dao getting pulled off a United Airlines flight like a ragdoll because he did not want to leave an overbooked flight. The next incident came courtesy of an American Airlines flight attendant who physically yanked a stroller away from a mom and her baby before holding a heated discussion with another passenger who had come to the woman’s defense. Of course, the aftermath was broadcast on just about every news show on television.

I realize airline companies have policies and procedures and, as with any confrontation, fault probably lies with both parties. However, in the arena of public opinion, you can be sure a doctor or mom is going to get much more sympathy than big businesses or corporations.

The common denominator in both of these situations is they were caught on camera. If these two events had happened 15 years ago, it’s very unlikely they would have become national stories.

As an HVAC contractor, make sure your company does not find itself on the wrong end of public relations nightmares like these. While your whoopsie probably wouldn’t be a national story that leads to plummeting stock prices, it can be just as devastating if you go viral in your local market.

Make sure every employee in your company realizes privacy on the job or in public spaces does not exist anymore. Almost everyone has a camera phone and as United found out, people love to record incidents where they think someone is being wronged.

It’s important to realize that oftentimes these cameras are not in full view. For HVAC contractors, it could be home security cameras that catch your employees doing something they shouldn’t be. Just because a homeowner is not around does not mean eyes are not on you.

Just ask CenterPoint Energy, a Houston-based domestic energy delivery business with more than 7,400 employees. It took just one employee to drag the company’s name through the mud. That employee was in a customer’s backyard when he began striking the owner’s dogs with a wrench without provocation. One of the dogs died. Within a few weeks. the video — which was uploaded to Facebook — had more than 1 million views.

This is not exactly what business consultants have in mind when they encourage companies to produce viral videos.

While the dog’s owners are now suing the company, the bigger problem may be the bad publicity the business received from the actions of a single employee. Unlike United, the business did the right thing by immediately apologizing and offering to pay the family’s vet bills. It’s anybody’s guess how many people heard that part of the story, though I guarantee it was not the 1 million people who viewed the video.

And videos do not just need to be captured in a home. Whenever an employee is identified with your company, they need to be on their best behavior. This can certainly mean driving the company truck to an appointment. Any documented road rage or erratic driving could put your company in a bad light. Instead of the couple of cars that would notice this in the old days, it could be hundreds of their Facebook friends. How about their behavior at a bar after work while still wearing the uniform? Think how quickly that could escalate.

Teach your employees that any time they are in the company uniform, they should be acting like a camera is filming them — because one just may be.

Publication date: 5/15/2017

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