Can A YouTube Video Undo United Airlines’ Brand?
If for no other reason than its viral spread, this story is worthy of one more comment. As of this morning, this better-than-average you tube video had close to 3.5 million hits and and a whopping 16,207 comments.
I saw this you tube video this weekend while working on a website with my brother-in-law and his wife. He’s a doctor and she is a physicians assistant, so neither of them are tech or social media gurus, but general users of these social mediums. As we were working, she came in to say we had to check out this cool video which she heard about on the news. After a few crack ups, we talked about how damaging this is to United’s reputation and the effect that a $3,500 damaged guitar can have on a $19 billion corporation that employs 53,000 and operates 3,300 flights a day, transporting over 65,000 daily passengers (4 million a year). To put the story in perspective, earlier this month, the LA Times wrote the following:
“In spring 2008, DaveCarroll and company headed from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Omaha, by way of (shudder now, frequent fliers) Chicago. Just after landing at O’Hare airport, says Carroll, one of his bandmates and another passenger looked out their windows and saw baggage handlers heaving around guitars with wanton disregard. Carroll says he complained immediately to three flight attendants, but was met with indifference. Some time after arrival in Nebraska, Carroll says, he discovered that, sure enough, the base of his 710 Taylor acoustic guitar had been smashed.
But he had gigs to play, so he found a way to do that. As Carroll acknowledges, he didn’t attempt to complain again until beginning his return flight a week later. Over the following days, weeks and months, Carroll made many phone calls to United representatives in Chicago and (who didn’t see this coming?) India, but basically he says United did nothing for him. Meanwhile, Carroll spent $1,200 getting the guitar repaired “to a state that it plays well but has lost much of what made it special.”
The capping blow, Carroll says, was an e-mail from a Ms. Irlweg, who denied his claim for compensation because he didn’t complain in the right place, or at the right time. The airline wouldn’t even give him $1,200 in travel vouchers, Carroll contends. So he vowed a sort of musical revenge — not one protest song, not two, but three, with a video for each, all to be posted on the Web. Carroll says he told Ms. Irlweg all about it, but got the usual response.”
Here are the links to the video and to the full article in the Los Angeles Times.
And here’s the link to United’s 12 Point Customer Commitment - http://www.united.com/page/article/1,,1505,00.html?navSource=Dropdown07&linkTitle=ourcustomer.
Clearly, three of these 12 items are at issue in how they responded to Mr. Carroll.
From a marketing and social media standpoint, the amazing thing is how quickly this spread, from the original you tube video, to a newspaper article, to TV news and finally it’s near dominating effect on the United brand. I’m certainly not the first to comment on the marketing effects that this has on United and won’t be the last. More importantly, there is clearly a lot of triage and damage control that a company like United needs to be engaging in and that is reflective of any company that touches millions of customers. Any high-touch, million-plus, customer oriented companies must have a team and program in place ready to cope with any issue of this magnitude. I also realize that, thank God, this is not a plane crash, but you would think that United would already be well experienced with how to deal with major negative publicity and would have the wheels rolling so to speak.
This episode continues to illustrate to me that in this highly connected world we live in, the effect of one individual can be enormous. From a technology standpoint, I recall the issues Intel had with their processor’s incorrect math about 10 years ago. I think if that occurred today, Intel would have been addressing a much more severe reputational problem simply because of the immediacy that social networking brings to the table. The bottom line today is that companies clearly need to have a social media triage plan in place to address issues that may mushroom beyond the scope of normal expectation and hopefully use social media as a mechanism to improve quality and customer satisfaction before issues like this come up.