Poor customer service goes viral

It should be obvious in a day and age with the Internet, YouTube, HD and video cameras, that poor customer service can be very costly to a company.  However, some of the old dinosaurs are a bit slow on the take.  This entertaining music video, “United Breaks Guitars”, was produced by a country singer who had a terrible experience on United Airlines.

As I watched the video, I couldn’t help but do a bit of math on the implications of such a viral production.  At the time of this blog post, more than 2.5 million people had viewed this music video on YouTube, and the bottom-line is that these 2.5 million people invested more than 11 million total minutes watching a negative message about United Airlines.  That is the same as 22 million 30 second commercials.  That is some serious negative PR!

I enjoyed the song and the video, and I can honestly say I will have a hard time getting the tune (and the message) out of my mind next time I have to consider United Airlines for a flight.  I am sure that at least half of the people that watched the viral video will have the same image stuck in their heads when they have to make a choice between United and other airlines.

Companies clearly have to get serious about treating their customers like gold, and this needs to start at the top of the organization and filter down to each and every employee.  In the video, Ms. Irlweg, a normal United employee, is singled out as the person that made the final decision on whether to solve this customer’s problem.  Today, she is infamous because of this video, and her decision turns out to have been pretty costly for United Airlines.

I recently purchased an Apple computer, and after a month or two, I had a tech problem.  I brought it into the Apple Store, and within 10 minutes, I walked out with a brand new laptop (with my old hard drive swapped into it).  The problem Apple fixed, for free and in minutes with a brand new laptop, was the type of problem that would have taken me a week to get fixed with Dell.  I was floored!  I could not believe the awesome customer experience from Apple, and at that moment, I officially converted to an Apple fan.  I have literally told everyone about the experience since that amazing customer service experience.

Although it was initially expensive for Apple to solve my customer service problem, I am 100% sure that their investment in me will pay off many times over in the coming months and years because of the positive word of mouth it created.

I am betting that this singer’s negative video on United Airlines will ultimately cost the company hundreds of times what it would have cost to simply solve this customer’s problem.  Can you imagine if United had solved this singer’s problem quickly,
without hassle, and with a smile?  What if they had surprised or
shocked him with their amazing customer service?  Perhaps he would have written a different song. “United Loves Guitars” has a much better ring to it.

10 thoughts on “Poor customer service goes viral

  1. You’re assuming a lot thinking that everyone watched the whole video. What sort of real time did they spend? The number of impressions is obviously important, but even with that, some people certainly thought the events weren’t real or it was someone out to get the airline.

  2. You are right Brendan. The assumptions may or may not be on target. It is good food for thought though.
    It is hard to argue that it isn’t terrible PR though, and as with most negative WOM, I am quite sure it is a net drain on financial resources. Would you agree?

  3. LegatoSkyheart

    Just because they swapped hard drives and gave you a new laptop doesn’t mean they “fixed” the problem.

  4. Thanks for the comment LegatoSkyheart.
    For me, they fixed the problem. My motherboard crashed, and the computer wouldn’t even turn on. They took my laptop, and handed me a new laptop still in the box. The computer turned back on just fine. Problem fixed. 🙂

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  7. Apple have absolutely terrible customer service! I have been on the receiving end of an absolute nightmare recently. Apple also delete any posts that are critical of apples practices from their forum.

  8. It seem that many of viewer for this has different kind of reason.In Finland many of call center treat their customer as gold as you said and they are really prioritizing it well having a poor customer service will surely give your business a bad image and it is not good.Well thanks for this.

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