Posts Tagged ‘Customer Service’

In a moment of David v. Goliath gloUnitedry, a United Airlines passenger, David Carroll of the Canadian folk band Sons of Maxwell, has become an interesting thorn in the side of United’s marketing department after his revenge video goes viral on YouTube and beyond.

The backstory here is that about a year ago, Carroll’s guitar was broken by United baggage handlers. After nine months of red tape and ultimately a denied claim for damages, Carrol produced a song and video about the incident. As of this posting there are over 3,250,000 views and over 15,000 comments. It is the fourth link down in the organic search results fo the term “United Airlines” – a classic example of how social media reflects real world problems, and can be amplified to the point of a major PR nightmare for a major brand.

The blogosphere, twitter, and even traditional media (including the Rolling Stone and CNN) picked up the story. United Airlines breaking Caroll’s guitar was in fact the biggest thing that ever happened to his career. “I’ll have a side of invaluable PR with my revenge please”.

There is now a Wikipedia entry about the Son’s of Maxwell (primarily focused on the United Incident), and I assume the number of fans and level of participation on their Facebookpage has increased since the incident (although it is a paltry 3,674 at the time of this post).

Taylor Guitars even posted a response video (rightfully taking full advantage of the PR opportunity) with tips about travelling with guitars:

If you search Google for “United Airlines”, the “United Breaks” Guitars parody sits just above a parody from Mad TV about United employees, which must have been much funnier to United Airlines’ marketing department prior to it reinforcing the current state of the consumer experience. Nonetheless, it’s pretty funny!

Moral of the story…if you have bad customer service – there is no place to run, no place to hide, and apparently no place to fly!

So why did this particular video go viral while others with similar attributes (funny, parody, well seeded in social channels) don’t? Well, first of all, there’s no magic formula. Remember, “viral” is a result, not a marketing discipline. Compelling content shared and distributed in social channels will have the potential to go viral, period. Perhaps the collective comradary surrounding the fact that we’ve all had bad airline experiences helped. One thing is certain – at some point the right combination of social (people/bloggers) and traditional (media) influencers propelled this video and incident into even more hearts, minds, tweets, blogs, emails, and broadcasts. Within the fabric of the social web, momentum begets momentum.

Social media is forcing companies to rethink operational, service and product related issues.  It is vital to address and correct problems proactively, otherwise, inevitably, the problem will force a fix the hard way.



See updates in comments. This situation has since been resolved.

I wanted to use a recent experience with horrendous service from BMW of Manhattan, to reflect on one of the main issues that companies don’t understabmwnd about social media. The basic principle is actually so fundamentally simple. If people are complaining about your service or products in the social media ecosystems than you have a problem with your service or product quality.

The Evolution of a Problem
We bought a BMW X5 in May from BMW of Manhattan. The experience commenced on the wrong foot. The sales guy got the order wrong, which of course we didn’t discover until after waiting for 5 weeks for our car to be delivered to the showroom. We timed the return of the last lease and the pick up of the new car for the same day. We now had no vehicle and my wife drives over 100 miles a day to get to school. One of the selling points of a luxury car is the ability to use loaners when your car is being serviced. However, this wasn’t service-related so they couldn’t arrange a loaner. So we had to rent a car for another few weeks, which I felt was only right for BMW of Manhattan to pay for due to their mistake. After fighting them on this point, the general manager ultimately agreed to pay for half. Although a bit upset (and now driving a rented Chevy for 2 weeks), in the grand scheme of things, I would have let this slide if it was the only problem I ever had with them.

When Quality Assurance Fails
Within the first 30 days of owning the car, we started experiencing electrical problems. We brought it into service and somehow the problem seemed to “fix itself” (yeah right – that happens a lot with technology). By September, the entire navigation system and screen to control all the other electronic amenities went out…then came back…then went out. It was clear that there was a problem.  Again, upset, but in the grand scheme of things, I would have even let this slide if it was fixed in a convenient and timely manner at no cost to me.

When Promises (and Brand Positioning) Are Not Fulfilled: “The Ultimate Driving Machine”???
When we bought the car we were told that loaners are always available when we need service for the car. We were also told that the loaners can be picked up from any service location. LIES on both counts! Loaners are one of the reasons why we buy luxury cars. Our previous experience with several Infiniti models was excellent and we had no reason to expect any different from BMW. When my wife told me that we had to book a service date in December (2 months away) in order to schedule an available loaner I was taken back. Taken back at the fact that we were lied to, taken advantage of, and as a marketer – taken back that BMW would sacrifice the desire to keep me as a long term valuable customer, generate word of mouth, and fulfill on their brand promise.  Although I enjoy the car, the problems were beginning to get on my nerves. I expect exceptional service from a brand like BMW, and so far I have received  anything but that from BMW of Manhattan. I have left messages for the general manager and sent letters to corporate. Nothing. The BMW service center in Brooklyn was MUCH better, but again, since we were lied to by BMW of Manhattan, we apparently are unable to pickup a loaner vehicle in Brooklyn. Today my wife spent hours waiting to get the car back because the service center was short staffed and very busy. Anything else to add to the list of problems guys? Let’s see how long the problem stays fixed. I am going to go ballistic if it returns.

The Social Media Lesson
So here I am blogging about the poor experience, even going out of my way to layer the post with enough mentions of BMW of Manhattan that it hopefully comes up on the first page of search engines when someone searches for “BMW of Manhattan”. My 700+ connections in Facebook, my Twitter network, and my LinkedIn network, which are all comprised of affluent luxury car buyers, many of which are actually in the New York and surrounding areas, are now commenting about my experience with the poor service. Word of mouth to not buy from BMW of Manhattan is now spreading, even if only within the microcosm of my network, and some of the networks of those individuals within my network. This is not a social media problem – it is a service quality problem.

I wonder if anyone from BMW of Manhattan (or even BMW corporate) is monitoring social media to hear the multiple rants and posting I have published about this issue. If so, please post a comment here and I will be able to get back to you and discuss. I’d be happy to discuss some ways to improve your service. For the record – I really do love my X5. It’s a solidly built vehicle, andmaybe I just had bad enough luck to have a bad saleperson, and got one with a bum navigation system. But I cannot endorse doing business with BMW of Manhattan after all that I have witnessed. It seems that the problems started with my first experience on the sale floor, and continued with some faulty equipment, but the clincher was that after all of that, there were no records in my customer record saying “we screwed up with this guy already, please take care of this valuable customer”. This lack of basic customer service quality assurance now reverberates throughout the fabric of my social media ecosystem. What an easy problem to solve. Also an easy problem to discover by listening to the social media conversations. BMW are you listening?

Update: less than 12 hours after posting — This post already comes up on the first page of Google results for the brand ZapSurvey. Great example of the power of blogs and the need for better customer support from marketers.

Update #2: Received an email from them late today claiming that my emails were stuck in their “spam folder”. Not sure what I feel about that one, but they did seem genuinely apologetic. Also, of course, they claimed that there was an issue on my end – yet, the QA in their interface indicated all systems go. So although there was a function burried in the interface that I should have changed, the faulty QA and display in their interface is a design flaw, which in combination with the lack of response caused many headaches for our readers and me yesterday. Moving on…

Boycott Zap SurveySo today I had a really bad experience with a vendor who I hereby warn the business community to never work with until they prove that they can resolve this issue and provide acceptable support and customer service. This is a sad story…for them…

I have used for over 2 years now. I have referred numerous clients to them because they offer a low cost online survey system. I have had billing issues with them at some point in the past, but nothing major enough to boycott them. Today they proved to me that either they are on the way out of business, or that they deserve to be.

I set up our annual reader survey for the niche media website I run, I performed a QA check as I normally would, tested the survey, it all worked fine. We included the request for readers to complete the survey as the main message in our weekly newsletter this morning. Due to a glitch in their system, the survey displayedas closed even though in their interface and the results of my initial QA showed the survey as working fine. I spent the entire day responding to hundreds of our readers (via mobile from airports) who wanted to take our survey, apologizing for this error. What a waste of my time, and the time of our readers! (Of course we are lucky to have such a loyal audience).

This is what our readers were welcomed to today:ZapSurvey Error!

I sent ZapSurvey an email alerting support to the problem after the second or third email came in regarding the error (I had thought the first one was a problem on the reader’s end). I have emailed them all day long – to both their support and sales email (there is no phone number for them). No response – not even an auto responder confirming the receipt of my email. They have broken every best practice. They have provided a poor level of support for a product that requires immediate attention when large group of consumers are at the receiving end of their glitch!

There was once a time when damage control was limited to the person you offended and their immediate friends & family. Social Media and the expanding fabric of the interconnected ecosystem makes damage control a much more difficult task. Note to marketers – make sure you get your sh#t together! One bad customer service situation can negate a significant amount of marketing investment, particularly when it happens to someone who can wield any level of influence.

So here is a public note to – have this resolved with an apology email in my inbox by the time I wake up tomorrow morning (6am EST), otherwise I will continue my barrage of communication alerting others about this experience. I have already moved the survey over to Constant Contact, but would be willing to continue to work with you if you make this right. What is my business and that of my referrals worth to you. We’ll see, won’t we? I train and consult businesses and agencies for a living, my reach has meaning to you. My blog gets picked up in Google News. Let’s see if you’re even listening. Obviously so far you haven’t been listening to my direct communication…