“United Breaks Guitars” incident – important lessons for businesses about the power of social media

in Social Media Marketing

The “United Breaks Guitars” video post on YouTube is another example in a series of incidents demonstrating how customers can voice complaints about poor and indifferent service from businesses. If you’re not familiar with the “United Breaks Guitars” incident, Dave Carroll is a professional musician who’s $3,500 Taylor guitar was broken by baggage handlers on a United Airlines flight. After many months of dealing with indifferent customer service staff, United decided not to compensate him for breaking his guitar. So Dave wrote and performed a song about the incident and United’s customer service response, which he posted on YouTube. This video got over 4 million views in 3 weeks since it was posted.

Obviously this is a major public relations nightmare for United Airlines – well deserved, but completely avoidable. If they had done the right thing by compensating Dave Carroll the $3,500 for his broken guitar in the first place, it wouldn’t become a fiasco costing United millions of dollars in lost revenue, PR response costs and untold damage to their reputation.

The amazing thing about this incident is that United Airlines never paid attention to or learned anything from the many previous incidents of people using social media to voice their frustration about lousy customer service from businesses. Some companies such as Southwest Airlines understand the power of social media for customer interactions and monitor social media sites as part of their social media customer outreach and marketing efforts.

Indifferent customer service and unresolved customer complaints are nothing new. Used to be that people would tell someone about a problem, but the traditional word-of-mouth grapevine is slow with limited reach. Social media has changed that by enabling people to voice their problems and opinions with fast and extensive reach.

How to use this information to benefit your business

  • No business is too big or too small as a customer complaint target via social media channels. Be prepared – see the Managing your online reputation article for more information.
  • It’s not customer service as usual – all customer service staff must be trained to deal with customer complaints and problems personally, proactively and speedily within the reality of social media recourse.
  • Establish an escalation procedure that everyone in your business follows if a problem continues to be unresolved or deteriorates.
  • If something like this happens that affects your business/products/services/solutions, respond quickly, directly, openly and positively.
  • Don’t make the situation worse by citing policies and procedures that don’t help the customer. Figure out how to make lemonade from the lemon.
  • Use the incident as a positive PR opportunity to show off how you work positively with customers to solve problems.
  • Look for opportunities from other’s misfortune – the following businesses are a few of many examples who connected with the “United Breaks Guitars” incident:
    • Clam CaseXtreme posted a video to show how their guitar cases protect guitars from damage.
    • Taylor Guitars posted a video with tips on traveling with a guitar and promoting their repair services.
    • There’s comedians, T-shirt sellers and others riding the coattails of the publicity from Dave Carroll’s video.
  • Monitor comments and complaints about your competitors for opportunities to promote your business/brands/products/services/solutions.

It’s also worth noting that Dave Carroll has probably generated more publicity for himself with this one incident than in his entire music career to that point. That’s smart marketing – he leveraged social media to voice his frustration about his situation and promote himself in a positive manner.
Copyright © 2009 Ingistics LLC and Marketance™ www.marketance.com

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