United Breaks Guitars, and This Time Human

In these postmodern times where every interaction with the customer is a marketing event, the real crunch point comes when the customer meets your customer-service department. -Advertising Age

A disturbing video captured by a United passenger went viral last Sunday and inflamed the whole internet. In the video an asian male passenger was dragged from his seat by a security officer with blood covering his face.

As I was wondering what kind of “crime” this passenger committed that caused his mistreatment, I learned that in fact he did not break any law or any rules. The flight was overbooked that day and United workers picked four passengers to get out of the plane. This passenger refused to be bumped from a plane as he claimed that he was a doctor and had to meet his patient. And then we saw what happened to him in the video.

Tyler Bridges, a passenger on Sunday’s flight, posted the video on Twitter. Till now the United stock price has dropped by 2.5% and the media commented it as the worst airline stock that you can buy.

This is not the first time United Airlines encountered a social media crisis due to its mistreatment of its customers. In 2008, Dave Carroll and his band were traveling from Halifax, Canada  to Omaha, Nebraska. While boarding his connecting flight in Chicago, his band noticed reckless handling of  passengers’ luggage, and Dave and his band suspected the case carrying Dave’s $3,500 Taylor guitar was dropped. When Dave arrived in Omaha, his fears were confirmed, and his guitar was broken

Dave wrote and posted a song, United Breaks Guitar, on YouTube. The song generated 1.6 millions views and caused United Airlines stock price to drop from 14 to lowest -3 percent. The brand image was largely damaged.

What could United have done differently to avoid the crisis? I have three recommendations below.

  1. Monitor Social Media

Hire a digital marketing team to monitor social media activities.

  1. Improve Customer Accountability

Improve customer service quality by training employees to better serve the customers.

  1. Efficient Crisis Management

Turn a crisis into a marketing opportunity by having a faster response on social media channels (Myspace, YouTube, Twitter). Most importantly, they should have the CEO apologize on TV,  magazines, newspapers, etc.