Thursday, August 6, 2009

United Breaks Guitars



Long time readers of this blog will know that my love for most airlines in the US has never taken off. In fact, I’m constantly amazed by the continued indifference many of them have towards the consumer, not to mention the consumer’s resigned acceptance of the service they’re offered.

Not everybody is content to lie down and be trampled on by the commodification kings of the sky. Dave Carroll is an Internet hit after he wrote and uploaded a video to a song called "United Breaks Guitars" about...you guessed it, United Airlines breaking his prized Taylor guitar. Initially complaining, Dave was met with indifference from three flight attendants. A week or so later, he made a complaint which turned into weeks and months to call centers before his claim was inevitably refused. You know the story. So Dave has had his revenge, and another YouTube star was born.

As soon as United heard a public relations storm was brewing, they got in touch with Dave to put it right. Good on Dave Carroll for saying that United “has generously, but late, offered some compensation but would rather see the money go to a charity of their choice”. I’m not sure if Dave needs the money now – he’s gearing up for the second of his three promised songs on the subject, and has more PR for his band than he could have dreamed of.

This is another example of the increasing power of social media. Consumers have the ability to talk back and change things. The effect of Twitter on Sacha Baron Cohen’s film Bruno is another example. It debuted at US$14.4 million at US and Canadian box offices, but fell to US$8.8 million the next day. The consumer is boss and in immediate control.

For their part, United Airlines have said “Dave’s video is excellent, and we plan to use it internally as a unique learning and training opportunity”.

A message to the US airline industry: It’s not about doing things right some of the time, it’s doing things right all of the time, even when you think it doesn’t matter. YouTube, Twitter, and co. say it does matter. Customer relations can be a joyful experience, from both sides. Check out this guy to see how it’s really done!

1 comment:

Kempton said...

Hi Kevin,

Agree with you totally, "A message to the US airline industry: It’s not about doing things right some of the time, it’s doing things right all of the time, even when you think it doesn’t matter."

But I am pessimistic about seeing changes anytime soon. How do you change the corporate DNA (business) and the wet DNA (employees) by training alone under rigid rules of old-school US airline industry? Not to pick on union, but how many airline employees with 15+ years seniority will be willing to do what the Southwest gentleman did in the video? 10%? (And that will be a very generous guess)

P.S. Two years ago, I explored the idea of "Local damage to a Global brand on a Global scale" after I read a story about what Shell station owner did. He decided to charge $4.33 a gallon for regular gas, 70 cents more than the competitor across the street, and that news was picked up by media around the world.

I wrote, "What a small Shell station owner can now do, in the age of Web 2.0 and social media/networking, has effects on a global scale."

I now think, paradoxically, the bigger a brand is globally, the more it has to be "right all of the time, even when you think it doesn’t matter"