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Front Page » July 14, 2009 » Opinion » Staff column: Airline foibles exposed on Internet
Published 2,277 days ago

Staff column: Airline foibles exposed on Internet

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Retailers and service providers need to evaluate the products they provide to those who buy from them, particularly in light of what has happened in the last week.

In the past seven days Dave Carroll, the lead singer for the group The Sons of Maxwell, went on You Tube to tell the world what lousy service he received last year on a United Airlines Flight from Nova Scotia to Nebraska. He did it by writing a song called "United Breaks Guitars." By the end of the week, his song was getting 20,000 views per hour.

It seems Carroll was seated in the plane at Chicago's O'Hare Airport and watched as baggage handlers transferring baggage from one plane to another nearly played volleyball with his $3,500 Taylor guitar. When he got to Omaha, he opened the case and the neck was broken. He reported it and over the next 10 months in trying file a claim for damages he was told no repeatedly concerning payment for the damage. He says he had it repaired himself and it cost $1,500, but it hasn't sounded the same since.

So bad customer service brought on a funny song and the even more funny video, and has made he and his group much more famous than they ever were just trudging along doing shows across the continent.

However United isn't laughing. They are saying publicly that it has been a learning experience for them and that will improve their customer service and how they treat customers. But you can bet internally there is a lot of gnashing and even breaking of teeth over this. The airline industry is fighting for every passenger in this recession and for any airline to lose customers to something like this is a big blow.

And they have a reason to be concerned. If you watch the chat boards you will see there are an awful lot of people that said because of what happened to Carroll they will never fly United again.

Right or wrong that is the new world of selling products and services to customers. It used to be if you treated one person poorly they would tell 10 others directly and it could affect your business. Now a disgruntled customer can go viral with it and thousands, even millions of people will know about it in less than a day or two. Big companies have a particular problem with this, because even false claims can be damaging. They always were, but now they travel at the speed of light.

This means that all businesses must think about how they treat customers, and want to be sure that the complainer walk aways at least not unhappy, if not happy.

As for Carroll, United has offered him a good settlement, but he says the whole thing was never about money after he was told no the first time. He had other witnesses to the incident on the plane and yet the airline basically called him a liar for 10 months. It became a cause, not a matter of compensation.

Maybe he should have got Gephardt.

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July 14, 2009
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