United Airlines Paid a Big Price For This Customer Service Screw-Up!
If you haven’t heard Dave Carroll’s United Breaks Guitars song, start here:
I’m one of a great many speakers who use this video to show how NOT to handle a customer complaint. I also use it to show the power of social media to spread customer service complaints that can really hurt your brand.
It boggles the mind how badly United muffed this one.
Customer Service Mistakes Made
Where did they go wrong? Let me count the ways:
- Poorly trained and/or supervised baggage handling crew. Why the heck where they throwing around his guitar in the first place?
- Failure to apologize immediately. There were witnesses. It was pretty clear that their staff had messed up.
- Failure to take the complaint seriously and offer immediate reparations. All he asked for was the $1200 it cost to repair the guitar. The brand damage done has been many multiples of that.
- Gave customer the runaround. For nine months they had him running through a customer service maze. Then, after he warned them he was going to release videos about the incident, they had seven more months before the video launched, but they still didn’t take him seriously.
- Too little, too late. It wasn’t till after they saw how quickly the video was blowing up on social media that United execs even reached out to him. And, as he discusses in our interview, they still didn’t handle things appropriately. He even gave them a golden opportunity to get in on a 3rd video, but they brushed him off.
What Else Can We Learn From This Story?
Fundamentally, United Airlines had (still has?) huge internal problems. Dave believes they never fully understood what motivates customers. Yes, customers like to fly in new planes, and on-time performance is important to them. But…
Customer Service is About People
Even more important is how they interact with people. All people. Their customers, of course, but also:
- Their staff. It’s pretty sad that Dave has had so many emails of support from United pilots and crew.
- Their suppliers & partners. I don’t know if any of the customer service folks or baggage handlers were outsourced, but if they were…
- The public. They just didn’t believe that this could blow up into something so huge. Certainly most social media complaints don’t. But is it worth the risk, especially when your organization was so clearly at fault?
Why Did United Breaks Guitars Go Viral?
Nobody can predict which videos will go viral, but this one had several elements that really helped:
- Humour. People love to share things that make them laugh.
- Catchy Tune. People also love music and rhythm. And music makes things easier to remember.
- Well-Structured Story. The video tells the story beautifully, following all the classic elements of good storytelling.
- A Problem Many Of Us Relate To. Anyone who has flown more than a couple of times has probably had some bad airline experiences. So we immediately identify with him and his pain.
- Emotion. The video provokes feelings of outrage (and empathy for Dave), which also makes people want to share it.
What Are Your Favorite Examples of Customer Service Complaints Handled Badly?
Let us know, in the comments below!