Posted July 10, 2009 9:54 am by with 41 comments

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I’d imagine a lot of us can relate to the nightmare that surrounds having to complain to any airline–especially when it comes to lost or damaged luggage.

So, you can imagine the frustration endured by singer/songwriter Dave Carroll as he tried to get United Airlines to pay for $1200 of damages to his guitar. After eight months of back and forth with United, Carroll decided to write the whimsical "United Breaks Guitars," record a video, and post it to YouTube.

1,351,943 views later, United is finally paying attention to Carroll.

…spokeswoman Robin Urbanski declared Tuesday that “this has struck a chord with us.” On Wednesday, she added that “his video is excellent, and we plan to use it internally as a unique learning and training opportunity to ensure that all our customers receive better service…. This should have been fixed much sooner.”

Yes, it should have been fixed much sooner! I’ve said it many times before, when dealing with a customer complaint, don’t consider what it will cost your company now, think about the headaches and lost business it will cost you later!

(Hat-tip Sheila)

  • Now that was great. Good for Dave. I will tell you that I would have second thoughts now about United.Not so much about the breaking of the guitar but how they handled it. I would hate to run into the same “No!” wall if something were to happen to cargo I entrusted to them.

    Frank Reed’s last blog post..Happy 4th of July and THANK YOU!

  • Sig

    I saw this on the news yesterday and I think it’s absolutely brilliant. Gone viral in the biuggest way and for a good reason.

    Sig’s last blog post..1969 Chevrolet Corvette One-Off aka The Bomber

  • I watched this video a few days ago, and the song is still stuck in my head. What a clever way to get a big company to accept responsibility for their actions. It shouldn’t have come to this, but at least they’re finally paying attention.

    Christina Gleason @ Phenomenal Content’s last blog post..How to Hire a Blogger in 10 Easy Steps

  • Clever and entertaining always win the day in my book. On a positive note, a fan of Chik-fil-A posted a very funny song tribute honoring the company and lamenting the fact they are closed on Sundays. Viral works both ways.

  • This is a great video. If this doesn’t convey the need for companies to not only be proactive in their reputation management, but also to improve their customer service, I don’t know what else can. I hope this creates lasting change within United Airlines.

  • Still makes me sad that a big company wont listen to little voice until it gets 1.3 million views. At least the little guy has a voice now-a-days

    Jaan Kanellis’s last blog post..Hey Dennis Kneale, Bloggers Do Not Equal Anonymity, Duh

  • mstrunk

    Recently considered traveling with my $4,500 road bike on United — I’ll pass this time. Well done and classy tactic in addressing the monolithic airline industry. I see broken and opened suitcases on conveyor belts all the time. Even lost a large smoked salmon out of my suitcase one trip. Callous treatment of customers baggage and treating checked luggage as your grocery store – hard to believe there is a business that can keep operating this way and still stay in business. Well done!

  • I’ve watched people praise this, and I admit, it’s clever, but this guy is using social media as a weapon here, which I don’t particularly like. For all his great fear that his guitar was destroyed, he didn’t even check it while still in the airport because he was “tired”. If my 1200 baby was caught being thrown around, I’d probably check on it before I left and make sure I got that claim in on time. Instead, he waits, United isn’t quick to fill it and he gets to exploit them for his 15 minutes of fame.

    I hope he enjoys it because that music career likely isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. 🙂

    Lisa Barone’s last blog post..By: Lawn Care Marketing | Market Your Lawn Business Online

  • @LisaBarone – Whats wrong using social media as a weapon in the consumer advocacy world?

  • @ Lisa Barone and @Joe Hall – Maybe if we’re lucky, Pat Benetar can do a cover of her own song and call it “Stop Using Social Media as a Weapon”. What a treat!

  • Joe: Just because you know how to ruin someone’s reputation and you have the tools to do it, doesn’t make it right. This guy wasn’t blameless and he knew how to manipulate his 15 minutes of fame.

    Lisa Barone’s last blog post..By: Lawn Care Marketing | Market Your Lawn Business Online

  • It still amazes me that big companies like United don’t pay attention to their customers — or the social web. When are we going to stop seeing such a delay in response. Wake up, whether you believe it or not, someone is talking about you online, good or bad… Great video 🙂

    Maria Reyes-McDavis’s last blog post..Social Media and the Power of Real Relationships

  • Lisa: I don’t think this is really a case of ruining “someones reputation”. He utilizes all the proper channels that united provided to handle these types of issues and still got nothing. I don’t think talking about that in a creative way is wrong.

    Did he exploit the issue, with a failed attempt to further his own career? Yes it looks that way. Was he an idiot in the first place for not checking his guitar in Chicago? Yes, he was. But I still think its ok to voice or sing your rotten experiences with corporations in social media.

  • Joe: No, you’re right. I don’t think he ruined anyone’s rep or even attempted to, but I worry about the snowball effect we create when we celebrate things like this. Inevitably, there will be someone trying to “one up” this guy and get the same attention. I’d feel better for him if I thought it was really the guitar he was worried about and that he didn’t just find a rogue way to get his 15 minutes of fame and his music airtime.

    Lisa Barone’s last blog post..By: Lawn Care Marketing | Market Your Lawn Business Online

  • I don’t think there was anything wrong with what he did. Companies can develop policies and procedures to basically just tell you that you’re out of luck when they’re in the wrong.

    So what if he didn’t check the guitar in time. So what, I say. The fact of the matter is that United damaged his guitar. They were in the wrong. They should pay. It’s no different from what Jeff Jarvis did with Dell back in the day, as Andy pointed out in Radically Transparent.

    This story appeals in a huge way to my sense of justice. There’s nothing wrong with the little guy finally having the right tools to be heard.

    jlbraaten’s last blog post..New Website ROI Tips: Online Goal Setting

  • Heh, I was waiting for this, it was definitely a natural story for your site. United Airlines deserves some long-lasting pain for putting this crap on anyone. Honestly the baggage-handling liability rules are plain dumb. I LOVE this guy for going the whole nine yards – I hope his music career soars now!

    Ross Dunn’s last blog post..Google Strips Beta Label!

  • @Lisa Barone lame.

    The guy is a genius for doing something they would listen to. (no pun intended)

  • Lisa, to your point, I *always* check my golf clubs for damage as soon as I land…but would UAL’s response have been any different even if there were a gate/baggage agent in Omaha? I kind of doubt it. They might have passed it off to Ms Irlwheg sooner but all it would have done would be to expedite the denial process by a couple of months.

    I should also say that I have probably had better luck with both luggage and on-time arrivals with United than with any other airline, and I’ll continue to fly them…it’s just that I can’t imagine that a big corporation would ever respond any differently…

  • @Lisa – I find it odd to think using social media is wrong this way, that a musician did exactly what he has the ability to do: he griped in a song and “put it out there.” Most popular songs are of somewhat questionable quality, but strike a chord in us personally (apparently a million or so chords in this case.)

    I have to agree with jlbraaten – just because a corporation has a policy doesn’t make it right. Policies are created to control costs for the corporation. They are very rarely in favor of the end consumer or “little guy”

    United doesn’t need any help in this regard, they have consistently failed to manage online impacts (visit to see what people say about the CEO) or visit to see straight airline complaints.

    United and many other airlines are in the mass-danger zone of Social Media. Take a 100,000 each day, give them questionable service, don’t feed them, tell them to wait sixty minutes, and then give them free WIFI (a recipe for PR disaster.)

    Barry Hurd’s last blog post..Social Media Banking, What Can Google Tell You?

  • Hilarious, brilliant, and creative. However, what I know, is: in the end, was anything resolved by United on behalf of this gentleman? Just using this as an example for customer service, does not do much on behalf of the gentleman. What they should do is bend over backward, record their own YouTube response video, and try to repair the damage done to their brand.

    Steve’s last blog post..Do You Need to Stop Moving Sideways?

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  • Neil


    Do some research and read the whole story. He did complain immediately but was brushed off by the cabin attendants and the ground crew. Part of the song is about his efforts to solve his problem with United reps from Chicago to New Delhi.

  • Malcolm Hobbs

    Frank, Social Media as a weapon? Please….Creative people are finding new and interesting ways to level the playing field where most large organizations can simply ignore complaints.

    The difference is that the company has an ad budget, PR people, Analyst Relations people, marcom people, customer service people, etc., etc. etc. They act in the company’s best interest as they should and that is their job.

    The fact that this guy was wronged and he had talent combined to create an excellent and self-serving way of getting even and personally benefiting at the same time. At the end of the day, was there truth behind the complaint (yes), was he creative in dealing with (yes), and was he a class act when United finally realized what a PR disaster they had on their hands and tried to make the problem go away (yes, and yes). Check out his video response.

    Please stop complaining about social media as a weapon. It is a core part of human nature, accelerated by a one-to-many capability. Evaluate the message and delivery, not the medium.

  • Scott W

    I just want to know if the spokeswoman was trying to be punny when she said that this “….struck a cord with them”?????????? :–)

  • @Malcolm Hobbs – Complaining? Not sure what you are referring to quite honestly. That was a joke (A) and social media can be whatever it ends up being effective as (B). There are no rules here. Relax, Malcolm.

    Frank Reed’s last blog post..Happy 4th of July and THANK YOU!

  • Amazing. LIstening seems to be a huge problem for many businesses. No wonder there’s so many baptisms of fire in social media.

    @Lisa – a weapon, manipulation or a way to get heard? Too many businesses don’t react until the proverbial hits the fan. Hopefully businesses will learn. And quick!

    Blogged a little on social media baptisms of fire myself.

    Steve Seager’s last blog post..Avoiding social media baptisms of fire: if nothing else, just listen. Pretty please.

  • The power of YouTube once comes up once again to bite a larger corporation in the backside. All it takes is a clever video to really tarnish an image.

  • Does Lisa Barone work for United Airlines?? 😐

    Well done Dave Carroll for a quirky response to the long tradition of large corporations giving their customers the two finger salute when things go wrong.

    This certainly isnt the first time a large company has found itself receiving a grilling at the hands of social media for its lack lustre approach to dealing with customer complaints.. But it is as Andy Beal says, the best i have seen.

    Oh, and Lisa.. The snowball effect wont necessarily be a bad thing if it acts as the proverbial cattle prod to big business where dealing with customer complaints is concerned.

  • A great read for companies that have not fully embraced Social Media and for United’s declaration that they will use the video for training. Other companies should follow suit as an example of what not to do. It shouldn’t have taken that long.

  • Interesting piece. Would anyone like to share stories where a company did a great job and a customer sang that company’s praises? (Aside from the Chik-fil-A example above?)

    Nick Miller’s last blog post..Online Reputation Management 101

  • Will

    It wasn’t even United thought it was UnitedExpress.

  • Amber

    Clever and entertaining What a way to make them listen.

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  • loool great song, i’ll never take my guitar on a plane again 🙁 i love it so much
    .-= mikaela ´s last blog ..B12K : Nokia N86 =-.

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  • I concur, if at first you don’t succeed, and by that I mean going through all the normal channels then by all means, use what tools you have to get their attention. Great job!

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  • Drew

    Lol, that’s for big corporations- this model isn’t talked about much but is a bit gruesome.

    Protect yourselves guys!