United Airlines is suffering the bad press of a disgruntled passenger who knows how to make an entertaining complaint.
The story of Dave Carroll, the songwriter and musician who had his guitar broken on a United flight, is one in a growing number of disgruntled customers taking their revenge on companies who otherwise won’t listen. United is getting it a lot worse than most, though – the video has been up for four days and already has 1.5 million views and nearly 10,000 comments. Appearing on CNN didn’t hurt it any – and makes United Airlines’ headache even worse.
Obviously, this prompted response from United, and they’re doing all the damage control they can and attempting appeasement of Mr. Carroll in an attempt to stop looking so bad.
I think there’s a larger story here, though. The more this happens, the more companies are going to bend over backwards for customers like this, as we all now have the power to become very squeaky wheels, thanks to the viral nature of social media. There have been stories of a lot less than the video above prompting action from companies. People who simply Tweeted about being done wrong by a company got help that day, and were begging to remove the offending post.
What happens when we all realize that the ONLY way to get a company to care about us is to shoot a video on YouTube? When the company then responds to our demands, will it really make them look better? Or will it re-enforce the idea that the only people who get proper customer service are the ones who can create the biggest stink?
To combat this kind of press, companies need to do more than simply say in a press release, “we’re sorry for the inconvenience,” and give the person who made their complaint a year’s worth of free whatever-it-is they sell. Companies need to make correcting the problem part of their plea for forgiveness. They need to stop thinking about how to please this one person, and start thinking about how to let the world know that they won’t experience the same problem. All of these stories of complaint posts and videos becoming famous focus on one person getting satisfaction, but never on how the 900 other people who didn’t have Flip Video cameras got theirs.
In this case, United did nothing to help Mr. Carroll until he made his complaint famous. Now any apology they make will obviously not be heard. It is apparent they aren’t sorry for what happened, only sorry that their brand is being tarnished. You do what you have to do, but will anyone really believe that United is sorry and it will never happen again? This isn’t a case of a company getting a beating on YouTube, but of a company that has a problem with their product that they aren’t properly addressing. This is why they are getting their shellacking, and this is why their apology won’t work for them in the marketplace.
Apparently, only if you post something to YouTube with a catchy tune. Personally, I’m going to hedge my best and stay away from United until I start seeing videos from customers who fly them and talk about how great it was.
Impossible, you say? Well that’s what Southwest Airlines has been broadcasting for years, and they have the high opinion of travelers to prove it. They show that being a part of the social media landscape isn’t about being aware enough you can respond to people who now hate you. For them, it’s about taking part in the community the entire time, not just because they need to save face.
Also, they don’t tend to break people’s stuff when loading it into the plane.