“United, United . . . You broke my
guitar.” I have had that line stuck in my head for almost a week now. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go to YouTube right now and search for United Breaks Guitars. Taylor
In a time when catchy videos go viral, any person with a computer and just a little time on their hands can become a company’s greatest promoter or greatest foe by simply posting a video about their experience. Such was the case when Dave Carroll posted a song about his ordeal with United Airlines in July of 2009. Carroll’s song, United Breaks Guitars, tells the story of how his guitar was damaged by United Airlines baggage handlers during a layover in
. As of this posting, the video has been viewed more than 10 million times. But how much can a funny YouTube clip really cost a company? In United’s case, Carroll’s song ignited a firestorm of negative attention and the company lost around $180 million in market cap. While this is an extreme example, it been well documented that consumers share their experiences with others. The only difference is now consumers have the tools to reach hundreds, thousands, even millions of others instead of just a handful of friends. Chicago
Perhaps even as little as 10 years ago, a company like United Airlines could have ignored incidents like Carroll’s because consumers did not have a platform large enough to reach the masses and share their experience. Now there is an entire industry organized for the single purpose (if you exclude selling ad space) of providing a forum for users to post their thoughts. Yelp has helped many small businesses prosper as a result of a few unsolicited, positive reviews. However, it has created hard times for many others that did not provide the level of service that the reviewer had expected. Consumers have demonstrated that they are more willing to trust other consumers, especially ones like themselves, than they are willing to believe any corporate ad. So how can companies leverage this phenomenon? There are technologies out there to enable the truth to be brought to light, maximize the positive attention and deflect the negative such as Reputation.com. It enables users to create a profile that depicts how they want to be seen (only flattering of course) and then seeks to protect that carefully crafted image against malicious (or potentially accurate) postings.
But does this really solve the problem? No, sites like Facebook, YouTube, Yelp, and Twitter only provide consumers a platform to share their experiences with a larger audience but before they existed, consumers shared their experiences with others albeit on a smaller scale. So the problem is not at all technology based and so the solution should not be technology based. There is no replacement for quality customer service. Simply put the ability to deliver what consumers expect is what keeps a company in business. If it fails to meet consumer expectations, consumers generally share those experiences and the company suffers. Dave Carroll’s song would have never been created if United had atoned for damaging his guitar or better yet, did not break it in the first place. The real way to get in front of negative press in today’s digital age is to treat consumers with respect and deliver what you promise. Anything less than that . . . well you can read about it on Twitter or maybe watch a video on YouTube.