Customer service in the age of the Internet matters a lot

Musician Dave Carroll with the Halifax band the Sons of Maxwell had an expensive Taylor guitar broken on a flight with United Airlines. After months of run-around over the damage to his long-time instrument, he was out $1,200 in repairs and clearly not a happy camper. In response he wrote a catchy little ditty called “United Breaks Guitars” and posted a video of the song on YouTube. It is now at close to three million views in a week. Wow.

It is now a topic of national news coverage, per this example CNN:

My guess is that United Airlines has endured a public relations hit that goes far beyond the $1,200 in repairs or even the replacement of the $3,500 Taylor guitar. After the video came out and went mega-hit, United ultimately tried to undo the damage with a settlement offer, but the songwriter has declined.

The larger lesson to be learned here: The Internet can be a great equalizer when it comes to customer relations. Both good customer experiences and bad ones can be recounted to a potentially world-wide audience for no cost.

I have posted about my good times with my Acer Aspire One netbook and my horrible experiences with Microsoft Games for Windows Live (an abomination) and Panda Software (the most daunting registration scheme in the known universe).

While this is a tiny blog, I can see from the readership statistics and the online search terms that led here that some folks did peruse my comments. Did I influence any buying decisions? Maybe…

It is now common for potential customers to Internet search for information on the products and services they are contemplating. If your company has earned a bad reputation, it will bubble to the top of search engines everywhere.

While “United Breaks Guitars” represents the extreme example of the power of the Internet to level the customer service playing field, the same thing occurs each day with millions of lesser-known examples.

My advice: If you are an airliner and your employees are observed tossing guitars — and one gets broken — don’t argue about it. Pay the claim, apologize sincerely, and have a serious visit with the baggage loaders regarding how their jobs depend upon keeping customer happy in a competitive industry.

Had this been done for one lowly country singer from Halifax, a whole lot of negative press would have been avoided. Do the right thing up front and then you can watch YouTube (or read blogs, online product reviews, etc) without seeing your company being skewered.

Hopefully United Airlines will use this video as a training film for employees. Learning a lesson late is better than not learning at all.


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