A $180 Million Customer Service Mistake
Fri, 20 Jun 2014, in Business
The United Airlines story
In the good old days, a bad customer service experience wouldn’t go past your circle of family and friends. No matter how loud you yelled, only a dozen or so people would notice you.
What if your words could be heard by 10 million people and cost the company $180 million in losses on the stock market?
photo credit 29233640@N07
That’s exactly what happened to United Airlines after they damaged a Canadian musician’s guitar who in retaliation made a song about it in 2009. The song was called United Breaks Guitars and was a public relations nightmare for the airline.
The story goes like this. Dave Carroll was flying from Halifax to Omaha with a layover at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, where apparently the neck of his guitar was broken. Dave and his band members (along with the rest of the passengers) watched in horror from their plane windows as baggage handlers were throwing pricey musical instruments into the baggage hold.
As it was an expensive guitar, Dave pleaded with the airline for nine months, suggesting the airline compensate him in the way of flight vouchers or coupons. It all fell on deaf ears. That’s when Dave took matters into his own hands.
150,000 YouTube views later, United Airlines realized their mistake and offered Dave repairs to the guitar plus $1200 in flight vouchers as long as he removed the video. Little did they know that this video was the first of the trilogy, with United Breaks Guitars 2 and 3 being published on Youtube in subsequent months. All together, the videos gained more than 15 million hits of negative publicity.
No one expected what followed. News agencies picked up the story. Youtube parodies surfaced after Dave’s videos gained momentum. What about Facebook and Twitter re-posts which could number well into the billions?
The Internet makes customer service disasters harder to swallow
The proliferation of the internet makes it really hard to quell customer service disasters. Nowadays just about anyone can register a www.yourcompanysucks.com for $10 and make a Youtube video on a cellphone that can get thousands of views overnight.
Let’s not forget about Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and how making a simple post with hashtags can unleash a snowball effect that could ruin a business image overnight.
When millions of dollars’ worth of damage is made, there’s not much a company can do but pick up the pieces whilst their experience serves as a warning to others.
Turning customer experiences around before they get out of control
United Airlines essentially had to pay $180 million for a broken guitar nine months of playing hard ball with Dave. That’s gotta be the most expensive guitar in the world!
The moral of this story is that reviewing your customer service strategy is more important than ever in our digital, social media driven world. Companies should consider the consequences behind their actions early on, starting with help desk or customer service software and employee training seminars. The Helprace software suite is built around social customer support so that you can keep close tabs on customer behavior. Coupled with the right training approach for your employees, you too can always be one step ahead of your customers, providing excellent service when it’s least expected.