Your customer has the power…

What is the power of one customer in today’s connected world?

Ask Dave Carroll. Or, even better, ask United Airlines.

On a flight from Halifax through O’Hare to Omaha, United broke Carroll’s expensive Taylor guitar. He didn’t sign a waiver, and even if he had there’s no excuse for how first his baggage was treated — and then, even more importantly, how HE was treated.

What United didn’t understand — and if you want to know my opinion of them, just do a little search here on McKain Viewpoint for “United” and you’ll see I think a lot like Carroll — is that now the customer has power.

Dave decided to write a little song about his experience. And now, via YouTube, over ONE AND A HALF MILLION PEOPLE have watched his video.

Wouldn’t it have been less costly — not to mention just the RIGHT thing to do — for United to have created a better experience for their customer?

Oh…I forgot…they’re too worried about moving planes from place to place…and losing money…to worry about the people who buy the tickets.

Is your focus on the right place? It had better be…because your customer has the power!

  • Kortney

    LOVE this post. I also LOVE the song!

  • Jim Seybert

    Scott – Perhaps the most damaging element in this story is way Dave Carroll used the present future tense in his chorus. Instead of merely complaining about his OWN guitar, he warns everyone that the airline is in the continuing process of breaking guitars – United breaks guitars.

    You just have to wonder about their policy manual. Under the heading of Customer Conflict Resolution is must say, “Do whatever you can to help the customer understand that we do everything in our power to ensure that their experience with us is remarkably bad.”

  • Jeri Omernik

    Sadly, Colorado is ruled by United and I say Amen! to Dave Carroll and his song. They treat customers like crap and their belongings even worse. I second Jim – I think they must have a section in their policy manual about how to treat customers poorly.

  • Gary Bloomer


    The big problem is that the nit wits and pea brains (believe me, I could use far more cutting Anglo Saxon profanity here, but I’ll resist the temptation!) in most customer service situations are NOT taught one basic thing: customer service is about fulfillment, not frustration. I had a recent run in with HSBC, my bank in the UK since 1987.

    My calls to HSBC’s service centre led me to speak with people in India and Italy. Days later, and with frustration and deadlines mounting, I hunted down the names of the head people at the London central office and e-mailed them directly.

    Within hours the picture (one where I was screwed) changed significantly. Within days the picture changed even more and the situation was resolved. I’ve done the same thing with Sears here in the US, and with Trump University, both with similar success. Had I NOT taken these courses of action I’d still be frustrated.

    Lesson learned: complaining to customer service generates no result. But when you complain to the heads of the organizations concerned and petition them in the strongest possible terms, things change because your problem becomes the problem of the head honcho’s underlings.

    When you do this, you reverse the stack and tip the balance in your favor. Be firm. Stick to the facts. But don’t be afraid of ripping a CEO on $500,000 per year (and up) a new sphincter. And if you get no joy from the CEO, or the CFO, go the Chairman of the Board, or the Secretary of the Board, or the entire executive committee.

  • Scott McKain

    Thanks, Kortney! Problem is, I’ve got that doggone song stuck in my head. Was at the grocery store in line today, humming to myself, “United Breaks Guitars!”

  • Scott McKain

    I joked on here previously, Jim, that I think their corporate motto is: “We’re not happy until you’re not happy.”

    You make a very astute point here — it’s something I totally missed — it isn’t like it’s a singular event the song is about…he warns that it’s practically a universal practice of the airline! And…let’s face it…this song wouldn’t be getting such an amazing number of hits if it didn’t strike a chord (pardon the pun!) among fellow travelers!

  • Scott McKain

    Gary —

    You make a GREAT point here. I’ve read where this singer/songwriter even said in an interview that the person that he talked with during his final conversation was exceedingly pleasant — it’s just that she had no power whatsoever to solve his problem. Now, you can bet it has the attention of the CEO!

    Why does it take such drastic measures on our part as the customer to get attention? Why do we have to go “nuclear” to get someone to do what they should’ve done in the first place?

    I believe it’s because most executives focus more on the internal functions of the organization — and, with public companies, on shareholders — rather than take care of customers. (And, before anyone says that shareholders are the most important — my firm belief is that if you take care of the customers, the shareholders end up with a profitable company!)

    Thanks for advancing the conversation, Gary!

  • Doug Hibbard

    When I worked for a large package delivery company, there were several mid-level management people who had been there before and after the IPO. Most of them expressed that the company had gone downhill when the focus went from Customers-Employees-Communities to Shareholders-Customers-Communities-Employees.

    The order was critical there. Shareholder focus tends to mean “whatever is instantly profitable” which is not always what is best for the company. Provide the service/goods your customers are expecting, train and compensate your workers fairly (including being clear on promotion/advancement. not easy, just clear), and the profits and happy shareholders will come. If you scare off shareholders intent on unsustainable profits in unreasonable time frames, have you really lost anything?

    When in it comes to customer service, again you find, those who are willing to help have no power to help. Those who have power to help have no willingness.

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