Social Media and the Power to Influence Customer Experience Policy

This year’s CSNM Conference included public speaker Dave Carroll, who wowed the crowd with his storytelling and lessons in social media and public relations. If customer experience is not being attended to 100% or you think social media doesn’t have impact, you’ll want to know his story.

In spring of 2008, singer/songwriter Dave Carroll and his band was flying from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Omaha, Nebraska, with a layover at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. As he was getting ready to get off the plane, he heard another passenger say, “My God! They’re throwing guitars out there!”  When Dave and his band mates looked out onto the tarmac where the luggage was being unloaded, they recognized the guitars being tossed around by the baggage handlers. Naturally the reaction was a blend of terror and disbelief. Dave immediately tried to communicate this to the flight attendant who cut him off saying: “Don’t talk to me. Talk to the lead agent outside.”

He found the person she pointed to and that lady was an “acting” lead agent but refused to talk to him, disappearing into the crowd saying “I’m not the lead agent.”  He spoke to a third employee at the gate and when he told her the baggage handlers were throwing expensive instruments outside she dismissed him saying “but hon, that’s why we make you sign the waiver.”  Dave explained that he didn’t sign a waiver and that no waiver would excuse what was happening outside. She said to take it up with the ground crew in Omaha.

Things got worse when he discovered that his $3500 Taylor guitar was damaged beyond repair as a result of being literally mishandled by United Airlines’ baggage handlers.

What followed was a huge customer service experience fail. Not only did United Airlines treat Dave with complete indifference, they continued to disregard his damage claim for more than 9 months. Out of complete frustration and with countless rejection of compensation from United, Dave promised the last United staff member who rejected his claim that he would write and produce songs about his experience with United Airlines, make videos and put them online for the world to see.  His first song was uploaded complete with hashtag #unitedbreaksguitars and the video went viral.  In an attempt to save $1,200 in compensation payout, United Airlines’ stock price fell 10%, costing stockholders about $180 million in value, within 4 weeks of the video being posted online.  The enormous media coverage compiled the song’s instant success and compounded the public relations humiliation for United Airlines.

United Breaks Guitars from Kenny Limann on Vimeo.

Dave has published a book and travels globally speaking publicly teaching companies and organizations how customer experience, customer service, storytelling and social media all make and break brands.  He focuses on four key points:

SOCIAL MEDIA – you have to be where your customers are!
CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE – you have to shoot for 100% Customer Satisfaction!
STORYTELLING –  the power of telling our stories – standing out with effective storytelling is key!
BRANDING – both personal and corporate brands rest upon the stories of other people and that needs to be communicated.

To see the video “United Breaks Guitars”, click here.


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