We live in interesting times. Like most people in the world I know what it’s like to have received a poor customer experience from a large company and to feel powerless in receiving a positive outcome. Traditionally, the balance of power in the customer-company relationship has been firmly in the hands of business and, like any one-sided relationship, the potential for abuse has been ever-present. There have been plenty of customer centric companies out there before social media but many have not and, whether they like it or not, more businesses are realizing that today a customer focused strategy is not only prudent in staying relevant. It’s essential to staying in business.
Social media has become a game changer in the way companies must now look at their customers. Gone are the days when shooting for targets, of say 85% of your customers being satisfied, are acceptable measures of efficiency. Those companies who feel that marginalizing any percentage of their customers as ‘statistically insignificant’ is acceptable are leaving themselves, and their brands, open to widespread and potentially devastating criticism; and it can happen today with incredible speed.
When United Airlines refused to take responsibility for the damage that occurred on a UA flight to my Taylor guitar, I promised to respond by creating three music videos about my experience with the airline. For over twenty years, songwriting has been my main passion and so I decided to stop fighting customer service reps and make better use of my time doing something I love. I would challenge myself to writing three songs from three different perspectives about the same topic. I would post them as music videos to YouTube with the goal of reaching one million hits in one year with all three videos combined. I posted the first video called United Breaks Guitars to YouTube on July 6, 2009 at 11:30 pm and some people have said that what followed has changed the world in meaningful ways.
In only four days I reached the goal of one million views. United Breaks Guitars became the focus of worldwide media attention and an online viral video. In fact, it became the #1 most watched music video in the world for the month of July. It has been reported that it dropped United Airlines market capitalization by $180 million dollars for a short time. Today there are over 15 million YouTube hits for all three videos and over 150 million people have been introduced to my story. Personally I have become a published author and co-founded a company called Gripevine to help both consumers and compnaies resolve customer ‘gripes’, all because of this experience. My budget to create a video with such reach? $150.
When I decided to use social media to share my story I had no idea the effect my video would have although I was certain I could reach the one million mark. There are countless videos with poor quality and forgettable content that have YouTube counts in the millions so I knew that if I could make something that looked good, sounded good and made people want to tell their friends about it that I could get there. What I didn’t count on was how strongly people felt about being forced through annoying customer service mazes only to achieve a poor result, if any.
My video struck a nerve with consumers and gave companies pause to consider what marginalizing some portion of their customer base can do to their brand. Everyone who buys a product or service deserves to receive what they were promised and today, thanks to social media, consumers have the ability to level the playing field by having the potential to amplify their voice when the promise is broken.
For a time, and much longer than United would have preferred, a lot of people around the world stopped for 5 minutes to watch my video and see UA’s brand in a negative light. There is strength in numbers and social media has offered any customer the potential to amplify their message to masses of consumers almost simultaneously. The fact that it’s next to impossible to know for sure which consumer has that potential reach means that forward thinking companies must consider all bad customer experiences as potential nightmares. The result is that proactive companies are moving towards eliminating bad experiences altogether or resolving them quickly when they do occur.
Social media has changed everything but it’s not all bad news for companies. Those businesses that embrace social media are poised to turn what many see as a danger into profit. Companies can now access the wisdom of the people they want to buy their products. They can crowd source design ideas for free and consumers can have input that will result in products they really want.
Ideally we’ll be best off if the pendulum rests near the middle but, as with many things, whether social media is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ comes down to perspective. Regardless of how you see social media though, it is here to stay and consumers have a voice they have never possessed. That voice is beginning to reshape brands of all sizes and the relevant companies of tomorrow will be the ones who listen best.
About the Author
Dave Carroll is an award winning singer-songwriter, professional speaker, author and social media innovator based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. He began his music career with his brother Don in the band Sons of Maxwell and has been enjoying success as a solo artist for the last four years. Known as a master storyteller, Dave’s incredible talent was introduced to millions when his 2009 YouTube music video ‘United Breaks Guitars’ became a worldwide sensation. The song chronicled his experience in the customer service process with United Airlines. His creative use of social media to share that message has reached over 150 million people. United Breaks Guitars was named one of the five most important videos in Google’s History. He is now co-founder of the consumer resolution complaint platform, Gripevine.com. Most recently, Dave has published his first book: “United Breaks Guitars: The Power of One Voice in the Age of Social Media,” (May 2012) with the highly respected, Hayhouse Publishing Inc., and he is also set to release his second solo album “Raincoat in Vegas,” later in 2012.