The following story would have been amusing if it wasn’t real.
It depicts the growing power social media gained in public opinion, access and usage. Just as much as it can contribute to a firm or individual PR, it can make a nightmare as well.
The story is a simple customer care issue that evolved via social media into an overnight nightmare, goes as follows:
An American guy named Dave Carroll flays United Airlines and in the process his guitar gets damaged in the cargo process. Carroll applies to UA, asks for covering his damage and the company takes few months to reply with a decision. Once they do take the decision it is not other than sorry, but no compensation, in so many words.
So far, an everyday story. However, Carroll opts for the ultimate revenge and does what he does best: compose couple of funny songs named United Breaks Guitars and releases it on youtube.
The next thing happening is amazing: more than five million people viewed the clip! Some experts suggested the clip influenced negatively UA stock price and even caused long run damage to UA brand name. And if you believe this was the worst implication, now the story ended up on Endeavour’s blog...
The story ended by UA finally offering compensation to Carroll but he nobly rejected the payment asking them to give it to someone really needing it.
I myself refuse to join the party around this case, I believe it went out of proportion and that we can all learn a thing or two concerning customer relations and its consequences. I also refuse to add to the flames by naming this post United Breaks Guitars as the subject requests, due to the same reasons.
Let’s pull this discussion upwards to its principal level rather than dealing with the single case at hand here.
As most of us are aware of, most airlines are responsible for any damage to people or luggage even though in many cases the airlines are victims to ground workers as well. Most airlines will offer compensation to proven damage and damage to luggage is an everyday issue for airlines.
From the company’s perspective, I can see two issues that needed to be solved: the length of time in making the decision and obviously the negative nature of the decision. The first issue should never happen of course and the second is questionable and got worse when the company finally offered compensation, probably after realizing the snowball.
Many firms need to communicate negative or unsatisfactory decision to customers’ demands, however, delaying and prolonging the process is not advised and unless the firm waits for the customer to give up on his/ her case, it is always advised to update the customer as for how long the decision process might take, the information needed, the actions to be taken and the commitment of the company and the person dealing with it for concluding it.
In addition, since there is always more than one way to communicate disappointing messages to customer, the worst thing to do is also making the customer angrier by the tone or manner in which the message was delivered. A customer might be willing to accept a negative answer to his demand but will not accept humiliation, patronizing or any none sincere reply with some empathy.
If a CRM professional makes the mistake and actually manages to add pain on sorrow, he can expect the customer to develop revengeful ideas and even carry them out.
We are all aware of the customers that can never be satisfied and will actually go the extra step just to have few Dollars refund. Some customers are very good at that and spoiling it for everyone else being firms and other customers. If you ever worked more than a day for any airline on this planet you must have heard the following sentence: I’ll never fly with you again...
I remember myself feeling so much better when finding out passengers are actually use that phrase against all airlines evenly. In addition, mostly the passenger is not aware of the carrier identity in the booking process and most flights are being selected for price and timing, not carrier.
The social issue media is actually changing the roles of the game for PR professionals and firms. In today’s reality individuals can get a massive public attention to their message for or against a firm and the days firms had absolute PR power over the individual customer, are over. CRM and PR professionals should take that in calculations when dealing with customers. As they say in relation to traffic but applicable here as well: sometimes it is better being smart than right.
David Dekel, CEO