Friday, July 10

Breaking Guitars: United Airlines

United Airlines might have already contacted singer/songwriter Dave Carroll to "make things right" after it carelessly broke his Taylor acoustic guitar, but given the extent Carroll and the Sons of Maxwell had to go to find justice is virtually unforgivable. Four days ago, Carroll had introduced a music video about the band's experience. In four days, the video has captured 1.5 million views (one million since yesterday) and shows no signs of slowing down.

Dave Carroll: United Breaks Guitars

Propelled by coverage by the Consumerist, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Sun-Times, ABC News, CBS News, and others; Carroll may eventually have the first customer complaint to go gold and the 13,000 plus passengers who file claims against United Airlines may have a permanent rally cry against broken customer policy.

Inept Customer Service Followed By Bad Public Relations Pun

After the first known acknowledgment from United Airlines' Twitter account, the airline issued a statement that reinforced the pun — "This has struck a chord w/ us and we've contacted him directly to make it right." Here is the extended statement:

This has struck has a chord with us. We are in conversations with one another to make what happened right, and while we mutually agree that this should have been fixed much sooner, Dave Carroll’s excellent video provides United with a unique learning opportunity that we would like to use for training purposes to ensure all customers receive better service from us.

Since, the tone of the tweets have changed from pithy to tempered, with United Airlines offering apologies and promising to use the video for training purposes. Ironically, the consumer crisis is indirectly helping the airline earn more followers on Twitter. We suspect they might not know that 50,000 followers is an empty goal if half sign on to keep the Carroll story alive until changes are implemented. Much like we suspect they didn't realize their statement would fuel more Carroll coverage.

At the same time, United Airlines is also being fined $80,000 by the federal government for not telling consumers which other airlines it has code-share agreements with. United is part of the Star Alliance, which partners international carriers. Other members include US Airways Group Inc., Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and Air Canada. Incidentally, US Airways is not known for customer service either.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned regarding customer service and communication inside this humorous take on airline travel, but the one that resonates the most is that companies might get used to the idea that they have two opportunities to listen to unhappy customers — either on the phone when they first call or online with the whole world watching as judge, jury, and, sometimes, executioner.

To its credit, at least United Airlines has some semblance of a fledgling social media program to answer some consumer questions direct. While a quick review reveals it's less than perfect by any measure, many companies facing a similar customer-driven crisis communication challenge would have to rely exclusively on the media to tell their side of the story. Sometimes that's what it takes for organizations to finally understand you don't have to engage in social media to be engaged by social media.

This story bumped our third installation of the SyFy branding debacle, now slated for Monday. Have a nice weekend!


PeterB on 7/10/09, 5:29 PM said...

Unbelievable! Have you seen this one?

Rich on 7/12/09, 8:16 AM said...

Hey Peter,

Thank you for the link. It is a compelling story.

At the same time, I can see the contrast between the two, which is probably why one story doesn't seem to command as much attention as the other.

Carroll created an entertaining look a problem that most people can relate too. The Leroux story, although compelling, is a documentary look at a real problem that most people cannot relate too, especially Americans who don't generally understand the Canadian government. And, unfortunately, the video doesn't reach out to people as much as it is trying to reach out to Oprah.

That is not to say Leroux couldn't have captured as much attention or that Lerous doesn't deserve attention for his plight against the government.

I'm merely pointing out that it seems less likely to resonate beyond a select niche. Had the video better connected with people, and interest swelled, then Leroux would not have had ask Oprah to put her on his show. She would have been asking him on, much like many news programs have asked Carroll on.

All my best,

Rich on 7/12/09, 8:20 AM said...

More words:

The Carroll video is still capturing attention with 2.3 million views and counting. While people are anxious to see the second video, it will be interesting to see if a sequel can capture the spontaneously creativity found in the first. We'll be watching! :)

Anonymous said...

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Rich on 7/28/09, 8:33 AM said...


The song is now available on iTunes! Nice one Carroll.

It's already on my phone.


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