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03/08/2009 by

United Airlines Will Never Break Guitars Again?

When United Airlines baggage handlers damaged Dave Carroll’s $3,500 guitar in 2008, he tried to get his restitution the old-fashioned way. But after many phone calls and faxes with various customer-service representatives, UA refused to accept his claim. So Dave, a professional country music singer, channeled his frustration into this video-song that he uploaded on 6 July 2009. Just 3 weeks later the video has been watched 4,4 Million times…

United has scrambled to respond, also in nontraditional ways. Its first comments came not in a press release, but via Twitter.

And as the global recession and the consequent drop in air traffic force the carriers to cut back on services and consider charging extra for everything from checked bags to onboard meals, the Internet, and social media sites in particular, is giving once-faceless travelers a global — and instantaneous — platform from which to air their grievances.

Confronted with these middle-seat Davids-turned-Goliaths, airlines, like other consumer-oriented businesses, are racing to find their own ways to use social media channels like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to forge deeper relationships with passengers — before things go wrong.

I can only add: why do so many brands spends tens of millions of budget on their brand promises, (i.e. their overpromising and shouting ad campaigns) but their efforts in guarding their brand experience mostly end-up being one big act of avoidance (instead of delivering their existing clients an out of this world customer experience).

I feel that social media with its consumer ratings and reviews and user created videos like this, will put extra pressure on brands. And I like it. Finally the consumers are in control and brands cannot longer get away with their neglecting behavior. So more and more brands will need to learn (faster) that CRM and an outstanding Customer Service Department are key ingredients to become a core identity brand.

To get this done, brands need to change the DNA and behavior of their communications departments dramatically. I know too many brands where 10-20 communications people are running around fulltime. Their biggest worry is their brand’s messaging, or in plain English: their new campaign with TV commercials, print and outdoor ads. Nobody seems to care about the existing clients, well working shops, sites or customer service.

I have been a marketer at 3 listed companies for about 9 years. When I asked my MarComs people: who of you ever spent one morning or afternoon at our customer service department, to learn and understand how our clients feel about your brand promises? Everybody was shocked and most people started to explain why they had absolutely no time to do that.

So I asked: actually you are telling me that you are all very worried about our brand promises, but none of you has ever taken the effort to listen at our call center, to learn how your promises are being perceived by our clients? Next months all of my co-workers had to spend one morning a month in our call center and one morning a month they had to visit our retail stores to do mystery shopping.

And I can tell you, my people came back with a very long list of what should improve in our services and campaign messages. Next they implemented that list. How on earth can a brand afford to spend so much time and money on their promises but continuously escape its responsibility to deliver the best customer experience?

But back to United Airlines again…

“Thanks to social computing, travelers’ tales are no longer confined to what they tell to their coworkers and neighbors,” said Henry H. Harteveldt, a vice president and airline and travel industry analyst at Forrester Research in San Francisco, adding that roughly 60 percent of travelers in Europe and North America engage in some form of social networking online. “They are out there in public for the whole world to see.”

Airlines in the United States have been the quickest to embrace social media as a low-cost public relations and marketing tool, in particular to spread the word about fare sales or to make announcements about new routes or services. Carriers like Southwest Airlines, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines are among the most active users, each with online “followings” in the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people.

Even some airports, like Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta and Logan International in Boston, are using dedicated channels on Facebook and YouTube to provide travelers with information like how to use the airport train system or to give updates on construction projects or changes to rental-car facilities.

Interesting is to see this video statement where Dave shares his thoughts after the success of “United Breaks Guitars”.

The full article can be read: The New York Times


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