While it could be "just another airport story" replete with grisly details regarding passengers left on the tarmac for 12 hours with nowhere to go to the bathroom, this one has a bit of a twist. A singer/songwriter's $3,500 guitar is trashed on a flight from Chicago in the spring of 2008. To add insult to injury, it takes the man 10 months to get a final response from the airline, and it's not a good one. United will not pay for the damages. That is its final answer. Well, not really.
Disgruntled, the singer decides he is going to make three videos regarding his treatment by United and post them on YouTube. He even tells United about his plan. Undaunted, United does not change its answer. United Video 1 is soon produced and uploaded. Unfortunately for United, it quickly goes viral. A few days following the video's upload date, United calls and offers to pay for the damaged guitar.
It's too late. The singer declines the hush money and states a second video will soon be launched. At last glance, United Video 1 has racked-up 5,362,500 views and the recently-released United Video 2 is at 297,146.
The airline's neglectful customer service has left it stuck in the middle of a publicity crisis.
Poor United! Is there anyone to defend them?
Actually there is, and his name is Shashank Nigam. Mr. Nigam is the CEO of SimpliFlying, an international aviation marketing company based in Singapore. He watched the crisis unfold and recognized United really had no idea on how to respond correctly. It needed help, so he decided to provide a counterpoint video, "United Breaks Guitars - the Answer." Although a bit cheesy, the video offers intelligent advice for the airline:
Mean what you say
Show how you've changed
Interact with your consumers
Involve your employees
In the "lessons learned" chapter of their manuals, companies need to add a section that states social media has become the one place where consumers have increasing leverage and provides a method to handle such a situation. While many corporations have learned that social media is a powerful weapon in cases where consumers have legitimate complaints, it seems that United hasn't gotten there yet (it should look to Iran for a lesson).
Social media is not only a way for companies to interact with their consumers. It's also a method for leveling the playing field when consumers need to talk back.