This morning’s brand brouhaha, if you haven’t seen it already, revolves around United Airlines and a musician’s scorn. The full story resides on Dave Carroll’s site but the gist is that United Airlines damaged his $3,500 guitar, as luggage handlers tossed it around. Nine months past and numerous phone calls and emails later, there was no resolution and Dave’s claim for his guitar was denied. What takes the cake though is Dave’s response. He’s a musician and it was only right for him to write a song about it but better yet, create a music video:

Aside from the video being completely hilarious, it depicts the story of his experience with United Airlines. Worse news for them, the video has already accumulated over 100k views and has only been live for 2 days.

Though it has been MONTHS since this happened, where Dave was denied a claim and was left with a $1,200 bill just to repair the broken guitar, United Airlines has taken note and responded through Twitter:

This has struck a chord w/ us and we’ve contacted him directly to make it right.

No pun intended =).

But to United Airlines’ side, there is specifically a 24-hour claim period and Dave passed that allotted time before he took action.

But are there exceptions?

Is United taking him seriously only because he has the power of music to have his voice heard (though it’s taken 9 months to do so)? Would all customers who went through a similar ordeal be treated the same, if they couldn’t sing? Or, is it OK to make exceptions for outstanding cases such as this one?

And lastly, is United Airlines wanting to right their wrong good on them, or is it too little too late to salvage the damage of this video? Sound off.

Spread the word or voice your own through the options below!

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12 responses to “Exceptions in Customer Service?”

  1. Sonny – thanks to you and Marcel for bringing this to my attention this morning. God love the power of social networking eh? :-)

    Some people I respect feel that United could potentially use this to their advantage. How would they have ever heard about this story without social networking? Others say all you can do is acknowledge, fix and move on. How can we begrudge companies who do at least that?

    I’m not 100% sure where I fit on that scale, though I am struck by a couple of things:

    1. The line between offline and online experiences is blurring everyday. This wasnt someone getting the blowoff after mouthing off on Twitter or Facebook. This was someone who, before now, had a relatively modest social profile (if he had one at all). However, he utilized a powerful social network to voice his frustration. Before the advent of these tools, what recourse would he have had? Maybe the mainstream press, but that would’ve taken a long time. Now he can disseminate his message to hundreds of thousands of people in the matter of a day. This could happen to almost any brand, but primarily b2c.

    2. The other thing that hits me is that this video proves social media isn’t a panacea for brands. United Airlines has a social media presence, but they failed on a much more fundamental level than that. The way in which they handle the baggage, a pretty monumental part of their business I would say, has been called into question. The way they handle customer complaints has been called into question. Again, another pretty fundamental part of their business. It doesn’t matter how good you are with social networks if you can’t handle a simple issue from one passenger. That’s a breakdown at the operational level of a company…something SM would have a difficult time fixing in my opinion.

    At any rate, I’ve rambled too long. Thanks for posting. Quality stuff!

  2. @Chuck – you make a damn good point. This case, though has blossomed through YouTube and Twitter as far as reaching a broad audience that is now talking about United Airlines, is also about how the company itself operates on a daily basis. Are customer service reps that inept to speak to a customer about their issue? Do baggage handlers really not care about your luggage, let alone music instruments (I think we all know the answer to that one)?

    Hopefully this is a case study in not only customer experience from the ground level, but like you said, business operations for United Airlines. Fantastic POV, Chuck!

  3. Great post, Sonny!

    Re: “Would all customers who went through a similar ordeal be treated the same, if they couldn’t sing?”

    Some people would have given up by now. I’m sure many others have encountered similar red tape and run arounds, with United and other major corporations, and just said “forget it.” Perhaps Dave Carroll is just the persistent (and creative) person to snap United to attention about how things are running on the business operations level.

    I’m curious to see what kind of reparations United tries to make with Dave — how they “make it right” — and how open he’ll be to accepting them. Is his goal at this point a new guitar, monetary reimbursement, an apology, or just bad web PR? None of those solve the root operations problem mentioned above, and I hope that United knows they can’t just take care of Dave and tuck it away in the “solved” folder.

    United has a much larger task in front of them. Satisfy this customer who has made such an addicting tribute to their incompetence, yes, but also make their actions known to the 100,000+ people who have viewed the video, and establish a new system that doesn’t completely fail customers. Figure out that simply having social media profiles and actually them properly, to the advantage of your customer, are two different things. The list goes on and on. Essentially, find their way out of this hole they dug themselves. Yikes.

  4. Policies should be set as guidelines, not rules. I certainly can understand that a statute of limitations on claims helps to filter signal from noise and allows United to determine the validity of a claim. However in this case the cost of the damage incurred should have triggered an exception of some kind. At some point this should have reached a decision maker who could have had empathy for Dave’s plight and taken action accordingly.

    I’m with Chuck big time on his second point: it’s interesting (even exciting) that this will get attention because of the platforms that Dave took advantage of, but the bigger story here is the fundamental issue of the quality of service at United. They now have the responsibility and opportunity to show that the treatment of both the baggage and the claim were exceptions. I’ll be interested to see how they capitalize on that opportunity.

    On a mildly related note, the music video was brilliant which makes a big difference in drawing attention to the situation. That’s a fact that should not be lost in the shuffle of this story.

  5. @Sonny – sure, this story blossomed through YouTube and Twitter (and now your blog), but if I were @UnitedAirlines I’d be more concerned about the operational failure this video depicts. 100,000 views on YouTube isn’t good (in this case), but if we can’t handle people’s luggage and can’t respond to their needs over the telephone then YouTube will be the least of their concerns.

  6. @Laura – love your point that United can’t just tuck this resolution into the ‘solved’ folder. Look forward to see if they make any additional statements, not only to the video and resolution, but to how they’re going to right their practices.

    @turbobrown – sure, they listened now because social media propelled Dave’s message, but the interesting part will definitely be on the latter and what they do from now on in regards to their service. But as you mentioned – ‘opportunity’ – they can definitely respond boldly and make public amends as to how they’re going to achieve this — up to them if they’re willing to do so.

  7. 9 months is a ridiculous amount of time for an issue to be resolved. When I worked at BT in the UK, we had a High Level Complaints dept. to handle issues like this. If customer service and escalations can’t resolve, it’s taken to the next level.

    Sure, it’s a pointer to how social networks are playing an increasingly important role with business branding and their reputation. But it’s no excuse for crap customer service when customers are the only thing keeping businesses afloat.

  8. When I saw this video I thought it was absolutely ridiculous. Show that brands need to be consistent offline & online. I saw a post on http://www.mpdailyfix.com/ about the social media disconnect happening where brands take better care of people on social media than they do in person and it’s something that may be happening here.

    Social media or not,this kind of customer service is ridiculous!

  9. @Danny – that’s a good way to be sure that anything that does ‘fall through the cracks’, is still taken care of by some form of customer service within the company. I’d hope United Airlines changes some of their internal processes to be sure something that went this far doesn’t happen again.

    @Howard – either companies are getting customer service offline or they’re getting it online. There needs to be a happy medium where both sides of the fence are met.

    Thanks for the comments, everybody!

  10. That’s the funniest thing I’ve seen all summer! And it’s a catchy tune. That’s what they get. So many companies emply folks who are indifferent. They don’t appreciate your individual issues and concerns. And you know what? Indifference is unacceptable.
    I will be sharing this one.

  11. Sonny – Classic “Social-Media-Strategy-Gone-Wrong-Cause-We’re-United-And-Have-Our-Heads-Up-Our-Ass” case study.

    Customers have their own media outlets – sorry United. :-(

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