Citizen Journalists Shouldn’t Surprise A Company

Dave Carroll and His Guitar

Dave Carroll is just one more case of citizen journalists taking to the social media sphere to share injustices and be heard when companies lack the customer service necessary to resolve problems.

Dave Carroll is a Canadian musician in the band, the Sons of Maxwell. In 2008 while connecting through O’Hare on a United flight from Halifax, Nova Scotia to a gig in Nebraska, he saw out the window his guitar being thrown amongst the ground crew while they were unloading the plane. He spoke with employees of the airline but no one had an answer for him. This was his experience:

On March 31, 2008 Sons of Maxwell began our week-long-tour of Nebraska by flying United Airlines from Halifax to Omaha, by way of Chicago. On that first leg of the flight were seated at the rear of the aircraft and upon landing and waiting to deplane in order to make our connection a woman sitting behind me, not aware that we were musicians cried out: “My God, they’re throwing guitars out there.”  Our bass player Mike looked out the window in time to see his bass being heaved without regard by the United baggage handlers. My $3500 710 Taylor had been thrown before his.

I immediately tried to communicate this to the flight attendant who cut me off saying: “Don’t talk to me. Talk to the lead agent outside”. I found the person she pointed to and that lady was an “acting” lead agent but refused to talk to me and disappeared into the crowd saying “I’m not the lead agent”. I spoke to a third employee at the gate and when I told her the baggage handlers were throwing expensive instruments outside she dismissed me saying “but hun, that’s why we make you sign the waiver”. I explained that I didn’t sign a waiver and that no waiver would excuse what was happening outside. She said to take it up with the ground crew in Omaha.”

Carroll Takes Action

Well better than taking it up with Omaha, Carroll took it up with the people of the world. He took his band’s music and the situation they were in and complained using what, should be soon, a series of videos that spoke of the guitar-breaking experience he had.

Since the first of a few videos posted on July 6, the view count continues to rise from its current count of over 3 million! From this blogpost, to many other placements in top publications, broadcast news and Twitter a-buzz with the stories and video-sharing, this band has DEFINITELY received its share of PR and publicity. 

They’ve also revamped their website with their story and their video posted. Soak it up boys!

United’s Response

According to a report by the Chicago Sun Times, the airline, headquartered in Chicago, is saying it’s learned its lesson, thanks in no small part to Dave Carroll and his video tale of travel woe. So much so, in fact, that they want him to let them use his work as an in-house training guide for their customer service employees on how not to handle a “my bad” situation.

The Chicago Tribune reports: 

Rob Bradford, managing director of customer solutions at United, called Carroll Wednesday to apologize for the foul-up and to ask if the carrier could use the video internally to help change its culture. 

“It could be used to improve the way passengers are treated around the world,” Carroll said.

Carroll has also posted a “statement” based on the popularity of the video and his discussions with United. United has offered him compensation and he’s offering it to a charity of their choice (because he doesn’t want compensation – he wants FAME)… this is starting to sound like he’s abusing the power. Just my opinion. You have to give United a little break here, Carroll. They are trying.

Effect on PR/Consultants and My Recommendations

Won’t be too bad for his band’s visibility either, huh? Well Carroll’s case was just one example of citizen journalists using their voice on the web to get through the corporate runaround we sometimes get from customer service. But why is this important to us as PR professionals and consultants? This is a clear case of crisis PR but MORE than that, there are two lessons from this example.

First of all, this should not have happened in the first place. Every agent, every employee, every person in a company should be aware of a consumer’s VOICE on the internet and the power it may have. In this case, you should automatically assume they will blog about their experience, good or bad. Usually the bad gets more press than the good, but the good and the bad are all measureables that United or whichever company can be using to change their processes, change their consumer experience and change their overall presence as a product, service, etc. That doesn’t mean do whatever the customer says or you’ll get in trouble. But, it does mean that approaches to complaints and customer experiences can be handled better. My recommendation would be to assign one customer service rep to a customer. If that customer rep doesn’t have an answer for that customer, let the customer service rep do the back-end work to resolve the issue without handing them off to another person who may not fully understand the situation. There is nothing worse than an angry customer who does NOT want to tell you the story AGAIN for the 10th time.

Second of all, from a PR perspective, if you are a business in this situation, you must act fast. United must have some sort of monitoring service covering this issue. If I was United, the minute that video was posted, we would have been acting quickly to resolve the issue. It is mid-July and the video is still being discussed. Although I applaud the effort of United to request the band’s video for training their employees, another creative method would have been a video with United employees apologizing for the way his complaint and guitar was handled. I’m imagining the ground crew and the airline staff in a sing-song that is both fun, funny and apologetic. This would only turn bad PR into positive PR showing that they recognize the creativity Carroll has as well as their social media savvy business model.

Here’s a great post on the impact of monitoring and calls to action for businesses:


July 18, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.