Have you ever faced bad customer service? I am sure that most of us, in our lifetimes have faced a rude attendant at the customer care! But, have you ever thought that a small music video can make them realize their mistake and change their marketing tactics? Seems a little unbelievable right? Well, something like that happened back in 2008 with the United Airlines, which literally made them change their whole marketing tactics and hire some well-mannered attendants and employees! Let’s get going with this interesting story.
In 2008, Dave Carroll, a Canadian guitarist and songwriter, flew with United Airlines from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Omaha, Nebraska. During the layover at O’Hare airport, a fellow passenger shouted “My God! They are throwing guitar out of there!”. The passenger saw that the baggage handlers were throwing baggage including Carroll’s precious guitar. At this point, Carroll and his other band members looked out where the baggages were being unloaded, they immediately recognized the guitar. They were literally shook by this incident, they were terrified, as to why would someone behave in that manner!
When they arrived in Omaha, the singer found that his $3500 Taylor guitar was broken. But, it was not a small incident that Carroll could just let go. The United Airlines were unaware of the fact that a customer service nightmare was about to barge in like a tsunami wave! For the next nine months, Carroll tried every avenue he could at United, but his claim was rejected at every turn. Everytime, the response was a “No” or “Sorry, we can’t help regarding this matter”. They came up with excuses like Carroll waited more than 24 hours to launch the complaint, so nothing can be done. Carroll tirelessly tried everything he could, like phone calls, emails, written letters, but nothing really helped. He even suggested that the Airlines gave him $1200 flight vouchers instead of the money for the guitar, to compensate for his loss, but they did not pay any heed to any of Carroll’s requests.
In this situation, helpless Carroll wrote a song, being a songwriter really helped him get through this. Carroll, along with his band, made a humorous video to go with the song and posted it on Youtube on July 6, 2009. The song was titled “United Breaks Guitar”. The video went viral. Now, all the people mouthed the song “United Breaks Guitar”. The video has more than 100 million views on Youtube as of now!
After 15 lakh plus views on Youtube, of this video, within a day, United Airlines did realise their mistake and they were ready to compensate. They contacted Dave Carroll and offered payments to make the video go away. But Dave was not ready to do that. He even suggested that they could donate the money to charity. It was not about the money anymore.
A Tsunami of bad public relations blew them out. Very soon the newspapers and news broadcast media, across North America were doing stories about the song. They were quick to pick up on the news and the song got a lot of exposure and publicity. There were thousands of copy and dedicated v videos made on the song and it helped to spread out the negativity even further. Now everyone got to know about this and United Airlines were regretting the blunder they made! The negativity spread so much so that a huge percentage of the population boycotted the services of the United Airlines and those who continued, did that half heartedly. Had United Airlines accepted the offer of Dave for the $1200 free flight vouchers, it wouldn’t have cost them such a huge loss!
The BBC reported that United’s stock price dropped by 10% within three to four weeks of the release of the video- a decrease in the valuation of $180 million. Clearly, Dave won this battle and United Airlines was the loser!
Even the Taylor guitarist protested. When they got to know about this, they gave Dave a new Taylor guitar and they did spread the fire on their Youtube channel as well. This only agitated the public even more and penalised the United Airlines even better. The United Airlines was clearly the loser and they could do nothing about it.
The world that we currently reside in has the power which can break everything and that is the power of social media. It should not only be about the fear, but also about your own moral and ethical reasoning. What is wrong, is wrong and you can’t get away with that.
For all the service providers, the lesson is clear- treat complaining customers with respect. Being rude and ignorant can cost you much more than you think. Carroll produced and posted two more songs in a “United Breaks Guitars” trilogy.
For all the marketers, the lesson is that the viral video is a potent opportunity and a potent threat. Remember, that in communication, humor and ridicule are formidable tools. Take a lesson from this particular incident and incorporate the needed strategies in your business.