Monday, 19 April 2010

United Breaks Guitars - don't service recover at your peril

I'm sure that most of you have come across the story about Dave Carroll, Canadian singer/songwriter who, together with his brother, forms the group Sons of Maxwell. In 2008, the group were flying with United Airlines from Halifax to Omaha via Chicago. While disembarking in Chicago, a woman behind them noted that the ground crew baggage handlers were "throwing guitars out there". The bass player looked out the window to see his bass being thrown out, which had been preceded by Carroll's Taylor guitar. The next morning, Dave opened his guitar case at his hotel to find that the guitar had been smashed.

There begins the story of a horrendous customer experience (please take the link to read the full horrors of his tale). To summarise here, when Dave went to complain, he was first passed from agent to agent, not one taking responsibility. It then moved from airline to airline, since United use the services of Air Canada in Chicago. After nine months of complete runaround by the airline with Dave having dutifully followed every process required of him without any admission of culpability or help in solving the matter by the airline, (including them losing the claim on multiple occasions), Dave gave up with the normal route.

He said: "At that moment it occurred to me that I had been fighting a losing battle all this time and that fighting over this at all was a waste of time. The system is designed to frustrate affected customers into giving up their claims and United is very good at it but I realized then that as a songwriter and traveling musician I wasn’t without options".

So he wrote a trilogy of songs about the experience and created videos of them (with all involved giving their time and effort freely), available for free download on You Tube with the goal of getting 1 million hits . It was an instant viral success. Here is the first video (check out Dave's website for all the others):

The video had 150,000 hits within the first week of being posted and to date has been seen by 8 million users and potential customers. It was an instant viral success, was shown on CNN, CBS and other stations, a PR coup for Dave Carroll, Taylor Guitars, who sent him replacements and offered help on You Tube for all those travelling with guitars, and a PR disaster for United. Eventually, the airline offered to pay for a new Taylor guitar (around $3,500), and said that the saga would be used internally as a learning experience to help improve customer experiences.

The reason I particularly like this story is not so much for the initial incident. In any large organisation serving thousands of customers daily, mistakes are made. And consumers know that. Yet brands are sometimes made (and broken) on their service recovery. Reading the full experience, United were given a full year's worth of dialogue to get it right, yet failed. As a result, 8 million more individuals found out and shared in the horror.

Moral: create a model and a culture where your employees feel like doing the right thing by customers is what is expected of them, where they feel genuine accountability for making things right, and you won't go far wrong in the long term.

Incidently, Dave now gives lectures on customer experiences. It seems his disaster gave him a great sideline business.

1 comment:

  1. 8 million and one viewers now! Great video and post. His experience resonates with me - I know that special "I really don't care about your case, problem or life" face that late night airline employees work so hard to get just right for that time when your suit hasn't arrived and you have the most important business meeting of your life in a couple of hours...

    Great to see your list - I can help with "speak at a conference" - when are you next in Barcelona mid week?