Two recent examples highlight - in the same industry, airlines – the adverse consequences, in terms of image, of poor management of customer relationships and the role that the Internet and social media can play:
In 2009, Dave Carroll, a Canadian singer, who flew United Airlines, realized that his guitar - although well protected - had been irreparably damaged. He asked the airline to reimburse him ($1200) - which it refused, arguing that his claim was not filed within the 24-hour regulation limit. After 9 months of negotiations and realizing that the company would not acknowledge its error, he composed a song, "United Breaks Guitars", and posted it on YouTube in July. In just a few months more than 6 million visitors had viewed it (today they number almost 10 million). This song was followed by two others, including one describing the problems he had had with United Airlines' customer service. In fact, the most remarkable reaction was that of the brand that made his guitar: they presented him with two guitars!
My second example may at first seem very different but I find many similarities between them.
The New York Times tells us that on 9 August, on a JetBlue flight (the low-cost American airline whose unusual media campaigns I have described on BrandWatch), a passenger rose from her seat well before the plane came to a halt, and started to retrieve her baggage from the overhead bins. Refusing to obey the steward's orders to sit down, she insulted him and threw her bag in his face. The steward, Steve Slater, activated the emergency slide and quit the plane, saying that this incident was the one incident too many in his 20-year career. He was arrested later in the day at his home and went on trial for endangering the lives of others by operating the slide.
The Internet unleashed its wrath - coming to the aid of Steven Slater. The surfers, almost in unison, asked JetBlue to reinstate him and appoint him as … head of customer relations. Laying the blame on the growing number of incidences of rudeness while flying, they took sides with the steward. Others found posts that Slater had written on forums analyzing the deterioration of relations with passengers after certain airlines started charging for luggage. In the end, employees of the company hailed him as a "hero" – saying they themselves were at the end of their tether. A "Ballad of Steven Slater" has even been viewed over 100,000 times on YouTube.
After a long silence (in Internet time) and after being pressed for answers several times, JetBlue finally responded on their blog on August 11 by creating a space for discussion called "Sometimes The Weird Things Is About us", where anyone could express their opinion on the Slater case.
In both cases the Internet (and YouTube in particular) played a decisive role in implicating the company. JetBlue - more reactive than United Airlines – was able to establish a dialogue with its customers and allow them to communicate among themselves. In both cases we see that building a customer relationship is not achieved through training alone, but by a real reflection upstream on the reasons for lack of interest or even conflict … and accepting that this could also be one of the repercussions of the business model of the company.