If you have anything to do with customer service and/or have ever been stonewalled by bureaucratic runaround from an inept corporation (I guess that should cover everyone), here’s a story you’ll love. Besides being a terrific example of an exasperated customer fighting back with humor and imagination, it illustrates just how much the tables have turned in the customer service world. Hats off to Denny Hatch for his column in the January 2010 issue of Target Marketing for bringing this story to our attention.
On March 31, 2008, singer-songwriter-guitar player Dave Carroll was flying with his band from Halifax, Canada to Omaha, Nebraska. On landing, the passenger behind Dave looked out the window towards the unloading baggage and exclaimed, “My God, they’re throwing guitars out there.”
You guessed it: Dave turned to watch his $3,500 Taylor guitar being hurled through the air, along with his fellow band members’ instruments. And yes, his guitar needed $1,200 in repairs as a result.
Whether or not Dave should have bought a seat for his instrument, as Yo Yo Ma does for his cello, is not the point. The real outrage came in the “customer service” followup. The ensuing horror story spanned the next nine months, involved countless phone calls to three countries, and required more than one trip to an airline customer service counter.
And, you guessed it again: United ultimately denied Dave’s request for $1,200 in airline vouchers. You can read the details here. It’s a case study in passing the buck and frustrating all but the most determined customers into abandoning their claims.
Here’s where it gets sweet. In his final conversation with United, the creative Mr. Carroll promised United he’d write three songs about the experience, post them on YouTube, and invite viewers to vote on their favorite.
The first video, United Breaks Guitars, was posted in the Summer of 2009. So far, it’s received 7,601,657 views and received 25,310 comments. In July, it was YouTube’s #1 Most Viewed Music Video, the #6 Most Viewed Video in all categories, and the #18 Top Rated Music Video of All Time. Its viral popularity has brought press coverage on CNN, the LA Times, Rolling Stone Magazine and the BBC, among others.
Indeed, Dave Carroll’s saga has literally becoming a textbook example. The impact of his social media campaign is due to be published as a case study by the Harvard School of Business. He’s also spoken at the Right Now Technologies North American Summit on the repercussion of unresolved bad customer service, and before the US Congressional Passenger’s Bill of Rights Hearing in Washington, DC.
Besides being a wonderful story of the underdog having the last word, there are three takeaways:
1. Customer service is more important than ever. The old adage that an unhappy customer will tell 11 friends is clearly outmoded – in this case, by a factor of 688,000.
2. The power of social media is growing exponentially. If one disgruntled customer without a marketing budget can reach millions of people so easily, just think what social media can do for your company, if you harness its power with a little creativity.
3. If you’re flying with a $3,500 instrument, you might want to buy a seat for it.