How would I handle ‘United Breaks Guitars’


Let me just start by saying: If a customer is so far at their wit’s end in dealing with your company’s customer service that it inspires them to write a whole song, you’re doing something very, very wrong.

The job of customer service is to keep a customer satisfied with the company and its product, which will prompt that customer to share their satisfaction with their friends and family and then continue on with their life. Not write a song, much less three, like Dave Carroll did about United Airlines breaking his guitar. Here’s the first song that started it all:

So, I’m going to pretend that the United Airlines customer service team put has Carroll through the wringer for a year, leading him to write this song (not so difficult to imagine!). Let’s also pretend that I’m an online reputation manager for United in 2009, when the video was first posted, and it hasn’t gotten 14 million page views over the past (nearly) five years yet.

First, I would comment on the YouTube video and say something like this: “Dave, I apologize that you have been going through this ordeal in trying to get your guitar fixed. Please email me at so that I may get this issue fixed for you once and for all.” This YouTube comment will not only show Dave that we are listening, but other potential customers as well. We want to gain Dave’s trust back and keep the trust of our other customers.

To be sure Dave saw my message, I would track down his contact information (which can easily be found by going to the website he lists at the beginning of his video) and essentially reiterate the overall message in the YouTube comment: that we are sorry, that we are listening and that we are ready and willing to fix the problem. Once I got a hold of him, I would get to the heart of what he REALLY wants. He’s past the point of wanting compensation at this point, especially because Taylor Guitars gave him some new axes. What he really wants is an apology, and a promise that our policies will change for current and future customers.

A great way to convey our response to Dave and our commitment to our other customers would be to make a YouTube video of our own, perhaps a song. Asking Dave to work with us on creating a song would be a great way of fostering good will with Dave and restoring our customers’ faith in us. We would work to make Dave a brand evangelist of ours instead of the opposite.

It all comes down to taking care of customers correctly the first time, and a social media reputation manager can help in doing that by sounding the first alarm. After all, in hindsight, wouldn’t United much rather have paid $1,200 in flight vouchers to Dave and just have that bad publicity never happen?


British Airways, learn from KLM and have a 24/7 social media hub

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Desperate times call for desperate measures and apparently, that’s how Hasan Syed felt after British Airways lost he and his father’s luggage.

He bought a series of sponsored tweets in September 2013 (not really THAT long ago) so everyone could see his frustration with the airline:

Sponsored, for lots to see on Twitter.

Sponsored, for lots to see on Twitter.

In lecture this week, Justin asked us, ethically, what is the right thing for British Airways to do in response to this situation? I would venture to say that their customer service department shouldn’t have let the situation percolate to the point that Syed felt compelled to blast out a complaint Tweet.

But it happened, there’s no taking it back, or BA’s super-delayed response, which the company said was because the BA Twitter account is only manned from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. GMT. (BA, maybe you should invest in a social media hub like KLM!) Their next step was the right move (reaching out to Syed to solve the issue privately, off of social media). However, BA showed its continued social media ineptitude in the process. Check out this exchange between Syed and BA:

british airways syed

Ouch! Does BA know how to check if someone is following them?

Justin also asked us how British Airways should pacify Syed: complain to Twitter (no), grovel (no) or offer him compensation? You would think this last one would be the way to go, but Syed Tweeted just a day after his promoted tweets that he was “not interested in compensation.” I think that’s about right; I think that a man who spends $1,000 on promoting Tweets doesn’t really want money; he just wants his luggage back. And if he can’t get that, at least some competence on the part of the company in trying to locate the luggage.

If British Airways complained about the situation on Twitter, it would just make them look bad to Syed and all their other customers. And groveling to Syed would just make the airline look even more pathetic to Syed and all their other customers.

Turning the question on its head, was Syed ethical in his decision to put BA on blast like that? Granted, BA was probably not too pleased with the way it made them look, but Syed did what he felt he had to do. It all comes down to that age-old saying “the customer is always right.”

However, it would be interesting to know the ins and outs of Syed’s customer service situation with BA. Syed says he didn’t invent #complaintvertising, yet he puts other companies, like Square, on blast on Twitter. So why didn’t he take out ads against them. Like I said, it would be interesting to see/hear the private exchanges between Syed and BA to see if his actions were legit, or if he’s just a chronic complainer. What do you think?

Honey Maid’s social media voice is ‘wholesome’ and full of ‘love’


honey maid 1991

What Honey Maid probably looked like when I was a kid.

When I was very young, probably about three or four, my Papa (my mom’s dad) would make me “Graham Crackers and Milk.” That’s literally all it was — just graham crackers, placed in a bowl with milk poured over them — and it was, and still is, delicious. Papa didn’t use just any graham crackers, he used Honey Maid graham crackers. A fact that was burned into the back of my brain for some reason, but one that I didn’t really think much of — until recently.

About three months ago, Honey Maid released its “This is Wholesome” commercial, which features a gay couple and their family, a tattooed dad and his family and an African-American family with a military veteran dad. Most commenters on Facebook and Twitter who had vitriol to spew focused it on the two dads and their two boys featured in the commercial. (Watch it below.)

I’m not going to talk about the content of the negative comments. That is another discussion for a non-social media strategy-focused blog. However, I would like to analyze what Honey Maid did with those negative comments.

Most social media/community editors and managers out there would agree with me in saying that when negative comments comments come rolling in on the social media page you’re managing, it can be very discouraging. When most folks are composing these negative comments directed to a brand/business page, they are probably not thinking that another human being is reading their comments. I’ve noticed on a lot of brand pages, negative comments are either responded to one by one or not at all.

Honey Maid could have done that, and it would have been fine. But they took their response to negative comments a step further and created another piece of viral content in the process. A month after the “This is Wholesome” commercial release, two artists commissioned by the graham cracker giant used the negative comments, buttressed by the positive comments, in a pretty neat art project. I’m sure you’ve seen it by now, but if you haven’t, take a look.

As the social media frenzy over the #ThisIsWholesome campaign and Honey Maid’s subsequent “Love” response was happening two months ago, I was taken back to my first experience with Honey Maid as a kid.  My organic nostalgia sprung up as a result of the way Honey Maid first listened, then responded, on social media. The one-two punch of “This is Wholesome” and “Love” made me realize how long this brand has been a part of my life and it wasn’t because they were self-promotion-y about it. They created a moment.

This is an important lesson for all of us who are trying to manage a social community, that sometimes it’s OK to take a beat and really think about how to respond properly. We don’t want to ignore people, but we also want to respond constructively and Honey Maid did that, literally and figuratively.

KLM: Taking it to the social media house

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I don’t think I’ve seen a company put its money where its mouth is and actually deliver on social until this week’s lecture about KLM (a.k.a. Royal Dutch Airlines) and its Twitter account.

On the KLM Twitter cover photo, the company offers a pretty big and bold promise:

klm twitter promise

Wow, that’s a pretty quick response! Wish all vendors were that quick (or responded at all) on social media.

My first thought was, “how can they do that?” but I’m pretty sure I know the answer: They put resources into it. Resources in this case equal people because I don’t think we’ve created robots or software that are THAT good at social listening — yet. One of our reading assignments this week is to read about KLM’s social media strategy, so I’ll be excited to dive into that and learn more of the intricacies of how they actually are able to be on social for their customers 24/7/365.

This week’s lesson, “Relationships and the Human Voice,” puts a lot of emphasis on treating our customers like human beings, in essence, treating social relationships like real-life relationships. Isn’t part of being in a relationship being there for the other person pretty much any time they need you? In lecture, Justin used the example of starting a conversation with someone and then just walking away — you wouldn’t do that in real life, would you? I’ll take that one step further: If a customer was standing at your counter with a question, concern, complaint, or wanting to buy something, would you ignore them or take care of them? You would take care of them because your livelihood depends on it. So why are so many businesses leaving potential customers unattended at the social media counter?

I realize not every company can afford to allocate resources into having a social media army ready to respond to anyone within 18 minutes. But guess what? They should still respond as soon as possible. Don’t leave a customer hanging out to dry if they really need help or have a question, or even worse, if they are pissed off. Social media responding and listening needs to be a lot more important to a lot more companies than it currently is.