In this world of Web 2.0, even with the companies lagging behind in 1.0 or NO.0, your brand no longer belongs to you. I remember when I was in college, I went to work at a “company” and we sat through a 2-hour seminar on how we are now representing them to everyone regardless of where we go and how we act. With technology like The Flip, that can be “shot” and almost immediately uploaded on YouTube, “your brand is no longer yours.” The brand now is its reputation. It is now an intricate, complex web influenced not only by your actions but also by customer response. It used to be said that when we lost one customer it was paramount to losing 100 customers. Now losing one customer could in essence be losing 1,000 or 100,000 or even 1 million! So in essence branding is now closely related to customer service; much closer than many think.
In short, on March 31, 2008 United Airlines broke Dave’s guitar (Taylor, worth $3,500) and after a very long dispute with United, he wrote and posted a song on YouTube on July 6, 2009, well over a year later. And now, United has come back to reconcile the problem (and Ms. Irlweg probably thought that it was over and done with having only the threat of someone writing a song). Who would have thought that this song would have gone viral? But that is exactly the point! No one knows what videos will or will not go viral. No one knows what blog post will or will not go viral. Is it worth the risk for a company? Dave is not after money, and he actually thanks United for helping him in his creativity (see the end of his blog post here).
Now because of Dave’s video, there is no telling how many more times it will be viewed. Since its posting, less than a month ago, there has been 446,000+ views with over 30,000 ratings of 5.0 stars! This truly represents the power of social media; however, even that is not tapped out. Dave Carroll is on MySpace, but not Facebook. While Dave Carroll is on Twitter, he has only a respectable 3,125 followers. I wonder how many of that is a result of his video. Furthermore, he is getting more and more press (on Fox News) from the media and has a Forbes article about him. According to the Times of London,
…within four days of the song going online, the gathering thunderclouds of bad PR caused United Airlines’ stock price to suffer a mid-flight stall, and it plunged by 10%, costing shareholders $180 million. Which, incidentally, would have bought Carroll more than 51,000 replacement guitars.
So while this has adversely affected United, it has positively helped Taylor Guitars and even other airlines. Beyond costing United the payout, it cost shareholders a whole lot as well.Then United made a much belated belated decision to donate $3,000 to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz as a gesture of goodwill did nothing to contain the damage, and to me, why would they even do that!? Carroll already declared that it wasn’t about the money. Furthermore, customer loyalty encouraged others to jump on its coattails. Here is a sample of that: Gory Bateson sings his original song, “Southwest Never Broke My Guitar,” before his concert trip to Fishkill, Alabama.
Furthermore, others have done something similar:
At Durango Airport:
So point in case, Ravi Sawhney said:
And with the power of social media, their voice is louder than ever before. You can’t stop the chatter, but you can have some control over whether they’re saying good things or bad things. Companies have to be tapped in to social media to quickly right wrongs and head off bad press before it spins out of control.
In conclusion, whether United was on social media or not, I am not sure that they would have stopped this mess in a manner pleasing to Dave. United failed at good customer service on all fronts. First, they failed to accept responsibility. This is the most important thing to Dave. And for many this still ranks at the very top. Many times when I “complain” about something I don’t want compensation, I just want them to fix a process (for that’s what I love to do, see process improvement). United Airlines could have “accepted” responsibility; however, one cannot “accept” responsibility and pass the customer off on someone else. It’s just like apologizing. I cannot say, “I’m sorry, but…” As soon as I say “BUT” I negate the “I’m sorry.” One of basic rules of thumb (well, to me it’s basic) in customer service is that the customer’s issue is now my issue until it is resolved regardless of who I am and where I work within the company. I am the “process owner.” I own this customer and their issue. When I entered Quality Assurance at my previous job, regardless of whether my facility was responsible, I did everything I could (and I had many advantages of other facilities because of the tools at my disposal were much more advanced than even centralized customer service) to see that the customer was taken care of, even to the point of calling them a week later to make sure their case was resolved to their satisfaction. Their problem was my problem. If they weren’t happy, I wasn’t either. Now imagine a company with this type of customer service. Would people be willing to pay more for this great customer service? Absolutely, for a long time I went with a cell phone carrier (T-Mobile) just because of their customer service reputation and I stayed with them longer than I would normally because of their reputation and my experience validating that reputation!
Second, United could have easily cut this off by just being flexible. Dave declared what he wanted in order to make him a satisfied customer, which is something many angry customers don’t do. They just want something and yes many people pull the wool over customer service’s eyes. We have all heard the saying, “Rule #1, the customer is always right,” but only some of us have heard Rule #2, “When they are wrong, refer to Rule #1.” When I was much younger, I worked for a restaurant (Fatz Cafe) that was growing quickly and they had a rule there that has stuck with me for years. They simply tell us, “Never say, ‘No,’ to any customer.” Simply, if we had the materials and supplies we could do whatever they wanted. So surely United should have had some exception clauses to their policies, and while Mrs. Irlweg may not have had the proper clearance, her boss or her boss’s boss should. And if there is no built in flexibility then simply, oh dear! At this same restaurant, we as servers were always given the ability to grant free desserts. Some of us were even given the ability to comp or discount food, and some were given the ability to offer BOG’s (Be Our Guests) for their next meal. These gestures can go a long way. While sometimes we got screwed, the number of customers that we won over out-weighed the evils of some. I remember one of these occasions very clearly because we nicknamed the customer “Dale Earnhardt” because he was such a HUGE fan of Dale. His first visit was horrible and their meal ticket was around $50. Our Operating Partner extended a dumb offer to treat him and his entire family. So the guy came with him and his entire extended family pushing the bill to $120, the biggest comp I’ve ever seen at our restaurant. And I was the chosen person to serve them to “fix” the previous errors. However, from that point on, Dale came in about every other week always asking for me and he always brought a different set of friends. So we probably made our money back on him alone.
Third, United lacked a sense of urgency. For this claim to taken over a year leaving the customer dissatisfied should never happen. It simply shouldn’t. Lately, I have been to Chili’s restaurant a few times, less than normal simply because of their horrible customer service. I have written to their corporate office to no avail. So eventually I may write another blog post on customer service spotlighting Chili’s. But I simply do not understand a lack of urgency in customer service. I don’t. To me, a fix is necessary immediately. Emotions cause experiences to stick, and if I can react during that time of emotion, then my reaction will stick with it with the same amount of power. This is something that many customer service people miss.
Social media is not the fix all; I’m not that naive to think this. However, while social media is not the fix all, it will surely give you a preview of what will happen. We cannot turn a blind eye or ignore the power of social media and its impact on our brand and our reputation. We can wield social media to our advantage or have it hit us to our disadvantage. Regardless, social media is here to stay, at least for one generation.