Thursday, December 13, 2012

'United Breaks Guitars' a must-read for anyone who needs proof of the power of social media

We all have a customer service tale of woe tale to tell. Or several.

Musician Dave Carroll experienced a customer service nightmare in the spring of 2008 while traveling with his band to a gig - and then he actually did something about it (something more than yelling at the telephone like the rest of us, that is).

You may recognize Carroll's name as the guy who took on United Airlines after his guitar got broken while in the airline's care on a flight from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Omaha, Nebraska with his band Sons of Maxwell. Since that incident, Carroll has become the bestselling author of "United Breaks Guitars: The Power of One Voice in the Age of Social Media" (Hay House Inc., May 2012, 197 pp., $19.95).

But back to the catalyst: During a layover at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Carroll and others on the flight said they witnessed - through the tiny airplane windows - Carroll's guitar case being thrown about by baggage handlers on the tarmac. When Carroll reached his destination and picked up his luggage, he found the neck of his beloved $3,500 Taylor Guitar broken.

After taking the better part of a year to tell his story to several United representatives in different countries (the incident happened in the U.S.; Carroll is Canadian), Carroll's requests for remuneration were summarily dismissed by the airline. When all else failed, Carroll pledged to do what he does best: Write a song about it.

DAVE CARROLL
In fact, he and his band Sons of Maxwell wrote three songs about the guitar-breaking incident and its aftermath AND enlisted friends to help make music videos to go with each song - all of which were posted on YouTube (see links below).
But first, Carroll told United about his plans to do so, and gave the company a chance to make good by paying to six his guitar. Well, United declined, and Carroll went ahead and made good on his promise. He and some friends produced the first video for a mere $150. At this writing, "United Breaks Guitars," which is a catchy Country tune and a hilarious video, has had more than 12.6 million views. Carroll had a modest goal of reaching 1 million.

According to Wikipedia, "The YouTube video was posted on July 6. It amassed 150,000 views within one day, prompting United to contact Carroll saying it hoped to right the wrong."

SCREEN GRAB FROM "UBG 1"
Mashable.com reported that the video, in its first 10 days, surpassed 3.2 million views and 14,000 comments. "But the bigger story is the video itself and United is likely to continue to suffer from social media backlash for many more weeks to come as the new songs come out," states the July 15, 2009 article by Jennifer Van Grove.

Chris Ayres of The Times Online in the UK wrote in a July 2009 that the incident cost United $180 million, or 10 percent of its market cap:

"..within four days of the song going online, the gathering thunderclouds of bad PR caused United Airlines' stock price to suffer a mid-flight stall, and it plunged by 10 per cent, costing shareholders $180 million. Which, incidentally, would have bought Carroll more than 51,000 replacement guitars."

Videos 2 (more jazz-like) and 3 (kind of bluegrass) didn't get the same astronomical number of hits, but were still watched by hundreds of thousands of people.

Carroll writes, "I'm not the only one who feels that United really missed the boat in responding to the videos. Since 'UBG' went viral, countless authors, researchers and presenters have invested significant time evaluating how United reacted as a brand." ... "The general consensus is that United grossly mishandled the affair from start to finish ... Simple things like saying 'I'm sorry' took months to happen."

At his own expense of $1,200, Carroll repaired his guitar, which he kept but no longer plays at gigs. In a show of amazing customer service, after hearing Carroll's story and song, El Cahon, Calif.-based Taylor Guitars offered Carroll his pick of two brand-new guitars from its showroom.

Carroll eventually was successful in a request that United Airlines to pay him a license fee for use of his videos in customer service training. He donated the money to various charities.

It's a pretty amazing case study in the power of social media - the power of one person, using channels available for free to all, to wage public war on a large corporation.

SCREEN GRAB FROM "UBG 1"
Carroll's book is related rather colloquially, with humility and humor and in what seems to be his down-to-earth manner of speaking ... and singing. Overnight he became a cult hero and soon-to-be best-selling uathor. His brand - and the status of his band - grew exponentially from the exposure.

Carroll has joked that when United broke his guitar, the company also broke his career ... wide open.

Since writing the book, all the while continuing his career as a musician and releasing a solo album, Carroll has launched Gripevine.com - the first online social media platform for consumer-complaint resolution.  He's also become a sought-after speaker on the topic of customer service. 

"What makes 'UBG' so important in the business world is that United's and Taylor's reactions directly affected their bottom line in some way," Carroll wrote.

While, according to BBC News, for a time in 2009, 'UBG' dropped the market capitalization of United Airlines by 10 percent, or $180 million; Taylor Guitars in 2011 announced that they had "their best year ever, with sales up 25 percent from their previous best year ever (all of this during a recession and with a discretionary item)," wrote Carroll.

The book is an easy, enjoyable read and likely to become a case study or required reading (if it's not already) in university-level journalism and communications classes. It's great reading for anyone studying or practicing public relations as well. And, it includes a code to download six of Carroll's songs.

The catchy and campy "United Breaks Guitars" will get stuck in your head, I guarantee it.

If you've read this far in my blog, that may mean you'd actually like to read this book. I have a review copy to give away. Please comment below with some way to get in touch with you if you're interested in "winning" my copy, sent to me courtesy of Hay House.
SONS OF MAXWELL

About the book (from the publisher):

Songwriter Dave Carroll wasn't the first person abused by an airline's customer service. But he was the first to show how one person, armed with creativity, some friends, $150, and the Internet, could turn an entire industry upside down.

United Airlines had broken Dave's guitar in checked luggage. After eight months of pestering the company for compensation, he turned to his best tool-songwriting-and vowed to create a YouTube video about the incident that he hoped would garner a million views in one year. Four days after its launching, the first million people had watched "United Breaks Guitars." United stock went down 10 percent, shedding $180 million in value; Dave appeared on outlets as diverse as CNN and The View. United relented. And throughout the business world, people began to realize that "efficient" but inhuman customer-service policies had an unseen cost-brand destruction by frustrated, creative, and socially connected customers.

"United Breaks Guitars" has become a textbook example of the new relationship between companies and their customers, and has demonstrated the power of one voice in the age of social media. It has become a benchmark in the customer-service and music industries, as well as branding and social-media circles. Today, more than 150 million people are familiar with this story.

In this book, you'll hear about how Dave developed the "just do it" philosophy that made him the ideal man to take on a big corporation, what it felt like to be in the center of the media frenzy, and how he's taken his talents and become a sought-after songwriter and public speaker. And businesspeople will learn how companies should change their policies and address social-media uprisings.

Since "United Breaks Guitars" emerged, nothing is the same-for consumers, for musicians, or for business. Whether you are a guitarist, a baggage handler, or a boardroom executive, this book will entertain you and remind you that we are all connected, that each of us matters, and that we all have a voice worth hearing.

 
Lyrics for United Breaks Guitars:

Sons Of Maxwell
United Breaks Guitars lyrics

I flew United Airlines on my way to Nebraska
The plane departed, Halifax, connecting in Chicago's "O'Hare".
While on the ground, a passenger said from the seat behind me,
"My God, they're throwing guitars out there"

The band and I exchanged a look, best described as terror
At the action on the tarmac, and knowing whose projectiles these would be
So before I left Chicago, I alerted three employees
Who showed complete indifference towards me

United...
(United...)
You broke my Taylor Guitar
United...
(United...)
Some big help you are

You broke it, you should fix it
You're liable, just admit it
I should've flown with someone else
Or gone by car

'Cause United breaks guitars.

When we landed in Nebraska, I confirmed what I'd suspected
My Taylor'd been the victim of a vicious act of malice at O'Hare
[ Lyrics from: http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/s/sons_of_maxwell/united_breaks_guitars.html ]
So began a year long saga, of "Pass the buck", "Don't ask me", and "I'm sorry, sir, your claim can go no where".
So to all the airlines people, from New York to New Deli
Including kind Ms. Irlweg, who says the final word from them is "no".

I heard all your excuses,
And I've chased your wild gooses
And this attitude of yours, I say, must go

United...
(United...)
You broke my Taylor Guitar
United...
(United...)
Some big help you are

You broke it, you should fix it
You're liable, just admit it
I should've flown with someone else
Or gone by car

'Cause United breaks guitars.

Well, I won't say that I'll never fly with you again,
'Cause, maybe, to save the world, I probably would,
But that won't likely happen,
And if it did, I wouldn't bring my luggage
'Cause you'd just go and break it,
Into a thousand pieces,
Just like you broke my heart

When United breaks guitars.

United...
(United...)
You broke my Taylor Guitar
United...
(United...)
Some big help you are

You broke it, you should fix it
You're liable, just admit it
I should've flown with someone else
Or gone by car

'Cause United breaks guitars.

Yeah, United breaks guitars.

Yeah, United breaks guitars. 

About Dave Carroll (from his website):

DAVE CARROLL


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. For two decades, Dave has charmed fans with his approach to music. His ability to extract the essence of a message and craft it into song is a rare gift that is attracting fans of all ages while his sense of humour and disarmingly warm stage presence makes each live experience a memorable one for audiences around the world.

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.

The United Breaks Guitars trilogy has awakened companies everywhere to the importance of focusing on the customer and on delivering exceptional customer experience. Dave Carroll is a musician with a message, demonstrating the power one voice can have in today’s socially driven world. Dave has become internationally famous as one of the world’s top media relations innovators & customer experience authorities. He is also widely sought after as a content creator & songwriter.

Dave has been featured in major news media around the world (including ABC’s ‘The View,’ ABC’s 20/20, CNN, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Rolling Stone Magazine, Wall Street Journal & BBC to name a few). Several case studies and book references about United Breaks Guitars have been published including one’s by Harvard Business School, University of Toronto and a Thesis by Allison Soule for University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
SCREEN GRAB FROM "UBG 1"

Dave has testified (and sung) on Capitol Hill in Washington, delivered keynotes at Columbia University’s Brite Conference, NewComm Forum, Mesh Conference, Atlantic Brand Confabulation (with Gene Simmons) , SXSW Interactive, The Power of PR CPRS Conference, G-Force Prague, G-Force Melbourne & other significant customer service & corporate events (including for RightNow Technologies & Sandvik Coromant).

In 2010 Dave’s song and video ‘Everyday Heroes’ was released on 911Song.com. In a world where broken promises are commonplace, when it counts most, there are people willing to help strangers because they gave their word that they would. The essence of ‘Everyday Heroes’ is about these individuals keeping their promise to respond, regardless of who is in need or the unknown risks that may await the First Responders. As a volunteer firefighter himself for 5 years, Dave wrote ‘Everyday Heroes’ after being challenged by a friend to honour those who answer the call.

Carroll released his second solo album “Raincoat in Vegas,” in September 2012.

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