In A Connected World, Where Everyone Has A Voice, Customers Win

from the welcome-to-the-modern-world dept

One of the key underlying themes about the posts we write here — whether they’re about RIAA lawsuits or public policy or business models or security through obscurity or anything else, really — is that one of the amazing things about the internet is that it gives everyone a voice. And when everyone has a voice, the customer wins. Period. Customers will always be able to get the word out if you screw them over, and so any business has to be focused on providing positive value to customers, not pissing them off. A great example of how old school companies still don’t get this (and what happens in response) was sent in by Jeremy Oudit, alerting us to how singer Dave Carroll dealt with a horrible customer service experience with United Airlines. Basically, United broke an expensive guitar in transit and refused to do anything about it. So, he started writing songs about United’s terrible customer service and put them on YouTube, along with the story, and they’re getting hundreds of thousands of views:

This is just the first of at least three songs on the subject, called “United Breaks Guitars”… How much does all that bad publicity cost? How much would it have cost to have compensated Dave for the broken guitar?

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Companies: united airlines

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Comments on “In A Connected World, Where Everyone Has A Voice, Customers Win”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Problem is that the baggage handlers are usually contracted out and not handled in-house. Don’t know about this specific situation…

But considering United’s headquarters is in Chicago, I imagine a contract may be cut short.

Which reminds me: I should probably cash out my Miles and avoid United. Heard good things about Virgin

john says:

the problem is ~customer service~

“Problem is that the baggage handlers are usually contracted out and not handled in-house.” – Anonymous Coward

no it’s not.

the problem is that united did not handle the situation correctly after the fact. even if they had gorillas handling baggage, it was well within their means to correct the situation. instead, they gave him the runaround for 9 months and rejected his claim.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: the problem is ~customer service~

Travel Much, John?

Yes, you’re right. But let me add and also clarify: I was merely making an observation that the runaround could partially be due to a cheap contracting company. Sometimes a contracting company manages all luggage for an airport.

However, if these companies, be it United, the Airport, or whomever is in charge of luggage transport activities don’t believe being insured or having an “incident fund” is useful, it speaks to the management decisions being made.t.

Because this poor guy was given the runaround for 9 months, it speaks volumes to expected service levels from United, and any associated companies United subcontracts with.

SomeGuy says:

Re: Re: the problem is ~customer service~

The point is, it doesn’t matter if the baggage handlers were United employees or not. This guy entrusted his guitar to United, and United failed to handle it properly — which here could mean United handed the luggage over to someone they maybe shouldn’t have. From a customer poit of view United is responsible and they should have fixed the situation. They didn’t, and an argument of “the guy who’s REALLY responsible wouldn’t pay us, so we aren’t paying you” is no excuse. Nevermind the 9-month runaround.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: the problem is ~customer service~

What was his proof that they broke it? I haven’t heard that part of the story. A link would be nice if someone has it (something other than him flapping his gums). Businesses run into all kinds of scams and have to protect themselves. You read those stories about the person who buys a PS3 and supposedly gets home and finds a cinder block in the box. The web goes nuts for these stories, especially one site now owned by Consumer Reports. Yet, why is it we are so willing to believe the customer? If someone else was so brazen as to buy a PS3 and return a cinder block, why wouldn’t one conclude that someone would do the same AND get notoriety for being “a victim?”

The Rage (profile) says:

Re: the problem is ~customer service~

You got it and let me add a note from a friend of mine who IS a United Senior Pilot (Don made something of himself while I languish with my USC degree BUT I digress).

He has had to LEAVE the cockpit at O’Hare and SHOW the baggage handlers how you do weights and balance. He was written UP and all flight crews embarking from O’Hare to not “harrass OR “unfairly criticize” the baggage handlers/ground crew in their jobs”..Don told them he, the passengers, and the AIRCRAFT’s SAFETY was more important than some DAMN “Quota Employee’s FEEEEE-lings”. The Pilot’s Union agreed. However, if you want to see a nightmare, go to Columbia, SC’s airport and try to send a package via United. You have never in YOUR LIFE seen a bunch of freakish, neophytes all of which are infected with an incredibly acute case of the “What’eva” attitude. You might also be waiting to receive a life-saving piece of equipment, like a portable dialysis machine. You have all the information, the flight times, the bill of lading BUT you find out “it’s not on that flight”. When you ask “Where is it?”. They don’t know and they quite frankly do not CARE!.

More than the guy’s guitar and how United acted contemptuously about it, shouldn’t United, in a post-911 world be for F’n concerned about S-A-F-E-T-Y!!!!..

These airlines should be fined, HELL rise-up and put a few of them out of business with ZERO hope of a gov’t safety-net bailout. AND, strip away the invisible protection of the CORPORATION and go after the men and women AT-THE-TOP and hold them civily and CRIMINALLY negligent.

This was just a guitar, will tommorow be 300 people?.

Time to use the BIG F-word toward the Management Club attitude that permeats Corp America these days. F-O-R-C-E them to make the Customer Number 1 again because even when the customer is sometimes wrong, the Customer is ALWAYS RIGHT. Anyone can go down the street and be treated like Shat. I want to see companies EXCEED my expectations once again. To make them worthy of my business.

John Galt says:

The problem isn't contractors, it's rigidity

I don’t work for a huge airline, but I have worked for a very large corporation in my past.

What happens in consumer focused large corporations is that customer service becomes less flexible when unique circumstances arise and the people responsible for serving the customer are given a set of rules that eliminate

Most large consumer oriented companies suffer from the removal of common sense as a result of “policies”. (Look at Government as the biggest consumer oriented company and you’ll understand)
A personal example: I purchased a $200 drill from a home improvement {depot} store that six weeks afterward was being sold for $150. Their unconditional return policy was 90 days, but their price match policy was 30 days. In the end, I returned a very beat up drill, received a $200 refund and purchased a new one for $150 because the General Manager’s performance was judged partly on how many price matches were done outside of the price match policy window.

The company still lost $50 due to a price match. They also received a drill set that they couldn’t sell as “new” (or even reasonably as “used” since I remodeled a bathroom over that six weeks). I would have accepted the $50, but since I kept the packaging and they were quite unreasonable, I got a new drill instead.

Today I work for a publicly traded company of about 5000 employees (formerly 15,000). We’re told to “hug the customer”.

Something like this baggage incident would have never happened, because the people at my place of employment know when the policies are to be scrapped. Someone within the reporting chain … well before 9 months … would have caught it and if action wasn’t taken they wouldn’t have hesitated to e-mail or call the CEO or COO.

The employees of United were likely unable to because of policies and directives, and managers who were judged (and cared more about) numbers on a piece of paper than “owning a problem”. Frankly, the airlines are among the **worst** at this.

By being so rigid, the BEST CASE SCENARIO for United is that they spend MORE money in nine months tying up their CSRs and associated supervisors and managers than the cost of the guitar.

For the worst case scenario, look at the viewed count on YouTube.

Paul Reinheimer (profile) says:

Article Title

I disagree with the title of the article “In A Connected World, Where Everyone Has A Voice, Customers Win”

Not everyone has a voice, or at least a voice that can be sufficiently heard in order to affect change.

In order to get the number of views they’re talking about you need to be some set of: funny, good, naked women, thought provoking. We’re not all able to produce a video/webpage/audio snippet/etc. that meets the standard for a link that will get passed around and such.

Even if we were, it still wouldn’t work! These videos are only interesting because they’re unique. If this was the 5th, or 10th, or 100th funny/musical/interesting/naked people complaint video would you have watched it? Probably not.

Unless United (and other companies) use this video as a catalyst for real change nothing positive has happened here except some publicity for the band, and a single repaired item out of the tens of thousands reported last year.

anon of course says:

Re: Article Title

Bravo Paul, and seconded. Thanks for saying what I was thinking by the time I reached your comment.

United lost my luggage for 8 days (they sent it to Canada instead of Seattle), and I’ve had nothing but grief ever since. It’s now 4 months later, and I still haven’t heard whether they will be repaying me what it cost me to clothe/wash myself appropriately for 8 days while they had no effing idea where my bags were. The best I can get out of them, from the other side of the world, is that they will “consider” my claim. Wtf?

I don’t have a video camera. I’m a musician, but not a composer, and I don’t have a band. I could get a blog and use it to bag United, but who would give a rats? Maybe walking naked down the street with a sandwich board decrying my fate would help.

Where’s my “win” ??

Andrew says:

I'm not sure that the customer wins

I share the concerns about whether the customer really has a voice. I also don’t accept the argument that this is a win for the customer over United. What did Dave Carroll get out of this? Some publicity in exchange for writing and producing a song. Good on him, he made the best of a bad situation. What did United get? Lots of free publicity, and a free video for internal training. And United still lives in a corporate culture where their advisers are telling them “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Even Dave says in the song that he’s not sure he won’t fly them again, but if he does, he won’t take luggage. Well, that’s *exactly* the passenger behavior they want to encourage!

Sorry, Mike, but this particular example doesn’t persuade me that the customer is really winning these battles.

Doctor Strange says:

Re: Yes, this true - but

But, when there is no competition you either do without or continue to complain with little result.

Yep, United has no competition.

Well, except for Aer Lingus, AeroMexico, Air Canada, Air France, Air India, Air Jamaica, Alaska Airlines, Alitalia, All Nippon Airways, America West, American Airlines/Eagle, Asiana, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Continental, Delta, Iberia, Japan Airlines, JetBlue, KLM, Korean Air, LOT Polish, Lufthansa, Mexicana, Royal Jordanian, SAS Scandinavian, Spirit Airlines, Swiss Air Lines, Turkish Airlines, U.S. Airways, and Virgin Atlantic. At O’Hare.

But if you leave out those, you’re correct, NO competition.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Yes, this true - but

“no need to discuss anything else because that might confuse some readers.”

No need to discuss anything else because it’ll make your stupid position, that government sanctioned monopolies are good, look bad. No need to “confuse” readers with the truth, you want to convince them with your lies.

Brooks (profile) says:

The right equation

I totally agree with the point and purpose of this article, and yes, companies are going to have to adapt to the increased exposure that unhappy customers may have.

However, to be fair, the correct equation for determining whether United made a smart (business) decision in refusing to do anything about the guitar is:

How much does the broken guitar cost?


How much does bad publicity from this incident cost? * What are the odds that this incident would get this much publicity?

If *every* broken guitar resulted in this much bad publicity, sure, it was a stupid decision. However, if one in a million incidents of (for instance) $5k worth of damage to baggage resulted in $1m worth of bad publicity, you’re better off accepting the bad publicity.

Me, I say good business assumes that the morally right thing to do is also the financially right thing to do. But if we’re taking it out of the moral and into strictly the financial analysis realm… well, we’ve got to get the equation right.

seeyes22 says:

Broken guitar

A Taylor Guitar is an expensive one. Replace it! It is time to take back customer service. They are like bank tellers. Get paid by your money and treat you like crap. I think the entire band should be compensated. I Will not fly United now My Grandson is a country singer. He paid over $4,000 for his guitar. They should replace it. Period

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