I’m kind of pissed off at United Airlines because they took my premier status away despite my long and heavy history (and lots of FF miles) with them. That’s my personal angle and — I must be honest — partial motivation for this post. But more abstractly this is a great example of the power of social media and how it’s tripping up “old school” companies, like United, left and right.
This story is about United baggage handlers who damaged some guitars and then refused to acknowledge responsibility. The whole episode is nicely laid out by Nielsen on the power of UGC and perils of ignoring consumer complaints. In a nutshell:
- Musician Dave Carroll and his band saw their guitars being abused by baggage handlers at Chicago O’Hare and complained
- United did nothing
- Carroll wrote a song (“United Breaks Guitars”) and produced a related music video and posted it on YouTube:
Millions of people have seen it and it now ranks for the query “united airlines.”
Nielsen offers a lengthy and thoughtful analysis of the events and impact that I won’t duplicate.
Clearly the front line and supervisory CSRs at United don’t have perspective and were mindlessly carrying out company policy in stonewalling Carroll. This video and the subsequent news coverage in major media outlets has damaged United in intangible ways. United’s brand and goodwill have been diminished if only temporarily as an airline that’s negligent and indifferent to customers. There’s a hard-to-determine yet real dollar value associated with that damage — at a minimum think of the corporate PR resources that have to go into combating this.
It’s an example of how brands and companies that deal with consumers must train and equip their CSRs differently and in fact empower lower-level people to address the facts and circumstances in front of them rather than simply using them as gatekeepers to try and get rid of annoying customer complaints. If there had been a sincere investigation and an offer of payment to replace the guitars the song (with others to come) would not have been written and the bad PR (and search results) would not have happened. As they say, an ounce of prevention . . .