Shrugging Off Unhappy Customers Can Be Hazardous – Just Ask United Airlines

I still remember the day early in my career when an “old hat” at the company I worked for pulled me aside and confided, “While other companies give lip service to customer service, we don’t even do that here.”

Now, of course, that was an atrocious attitude, though he turned out to be correct. (I left shortly thereafter.)

However, in the age of the Internet and social media, such corporate indifference could be hazardous to your bottom line.

I will write soon about patient ratings (you may well be surprised by my views), but in the meantime I want to share a story starring United Airlines.

Dave Carroll, a musician, watched helplessly as his expensive Taylor guitar was dropped and broken by United’s baggage handlers. After a long and frustrating process, United refused to  reimburse him for the repairs. It felt like a slap in the face, so he told the representative, “I am a musician and I am going to create three videos about my experiences with United.”

It must have caused quite a whirlwind at United’s corporate offices when Carroll’s humorous first video, “United Breaks Guitars,” appeared YouTube. The PR folks tried to intervene, but by then the damage was done. Carroll refused to back down and later created the second and third videos as well.

Take  moment to watch the first video – just like 10,000,000 people already have. That’s 10 MILLION. What a debacle.

But the story continues. Last year I was stranded in Denver at a United Airlines customer service line for over 2 hours, with about a dozen other travelers. The one indifferent clerk would disappear for long stretches at a time. Worse, she never apologized, got help or even looked up at us. By then our little group had developed the cynical camaraderie common to situations like these, and I happened to mention the United Breaks Guitars video. But if only I could show it to them…

Ah, but then I remembered I could. So I pulled out my iPhone, and for a moment my fellow travelers enjoyed a vengeful laugh at United’s expense.

What do you think happened to those weary travelers when they (finally) got home? Think any of them posted their travel story on Facebook, along with the aforementioned video link?

The viral aspect of the video is easy to understand. Everyone has had the experience of feeling powerless when dealing with an indifferent corporation. (United isn’t alone, of course.) The video struck a nerve, clearly.

So what does this mean to you? Well, if you are in healthcare, whether you like it or not, your patients are now empowered. And, as they get used to technology, they are going to use it a lot more than they do now.

Most patients will forgive your organization for slights if someone apologizes, shows sincerity and handles the problem. But if all patients get is an indifferent runaround, look out. Someone is going to want to get even online.

By the way, if you  are ever standing in an endless line, feeling slighted by a certain airline, you now have a good story and video to share…

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