Thursday, 5 November 2009

Say it with a Song: Customer Complaints in the Era of Social Media

It has become kind of state-of-the art that tourists share their travel experiences on holiday review platforms and post comments on the perceived quality and service of hotels, destinations, sights, transportation means etc. Platforms such as or are gaining in popularity among visitors who make their booking decision dependent on what other customers have to say about the service they received. And very often the comments turn out to be relentlessly honest indeed.

Review platforms literally have put the power into the hands of the customers and the tourism suppliers have become at the mercy of their guests in terms of meeting and exceeding customer expectations. This shift from passive users to empowered producers or prosumers has been fostered by both the active participation of the users themselves in the online communication as well as the still growing popularity of social networking platforms such as Facebook or YouTube which enable users to publish and spread content easily. A combination of written text, photos and videos of the visited site can be published in an instant by visitors and can be then viewed immediately by other interested visitors.

However, a creative Canadian musician took the biscuit when it comes to expressing the frustration of a bad customer experience. After baggage handlers of United Airlines broke the 3,500 US$ guitar of song writer Dave Carroll he tried for nine months to get a compensation of 1,200 US$ for the repair of his beloved instrument, but standard procedures were applied to poor Davy and his endeavours were in vain.

That did not sit well with Mr Carroll. Therefore, he satisfied his thirst for revenge by creating a music video titled “United Breaks Guitars” which has been viewed on YouTube more than six million times since July. Yes – 6,000,000 times!

Eventually, United Airlines executives were ready to meet up with Dave and offered him US$ 3,000 compensation which he decently donated to charity.
Encouraged by the success of his video message, Dave composed a follow-up video that he published on YouTube last August and which has been viewed by more than half a million users since then.

This rather unconventional form of a customer complaint on social media platforms did not only increase Dave Carroll’s popularity as a singer beyond the Canadian borders but also made him a wanted speaker on customer service matters at various conferences. On this mission, it happened that Dave travelled to Colorado Springs less than two weeks ago to give a keynote speech at a customer service and social networking conference, and of course also perform his song “United Breaks Guitars”.
Guess what airline he took? – United Airlines.
Guess what happened? – His luggage was lost.

This amusing but informative story shows us clearly that the voice of an unsatisfied customer can be loud in the era of Web 2.0 and a subtle irony or parody seems to be an ideal formula for attracting a big audience on social media platforms. Maybe tourism suppliers will be confronted with more sung customer complaints on review websites soon.

I am grateful to my friend Alex Rayner who informed me about this great social media campaign.

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