You’ve probably heard about Dave Carrols experience with United Airlines.  Dave is a musician with a music band called “Sons of Maxwell”.  Below is an excerpt explaining the incident from his website:

“In the spring of 2008, Sons of Maxwell were traveling to Nebraska for a one-week tour and my Taylor guitar was witnessed being thrown by United Airlines baggage handlers in Chicago. I discovered later that the $3500 guitar was severely damaged. They didn’t deny the experience occurred but for nine months the various people I communicated with put the responsibility for dealing with the damage on everyone other than themselves and finally said they would do nothing to compensate me for my loss. So I promised the last person to finally say “no” to compensation (Ms. Irlweg) that I would write and produce three songs about my experience with United Airlines and make videos for each to be viewed online by anyone in the world…”

The first video created a viral explosion that rocked the corporate foundations of United Airlines.  The video to date has over 5 million views, the incident (and video) was covered on a number of major television network shows, it was on various local television and radio stations plus thousands of internet articles, blogs, news paper stories and social networking sites.  From United Airlines standpoint, this was a huge PR disaster.  United Airline subsequently made financial reparations to the band, and is reviewing its procedures and employee training and “use this incident as a learning experience for improving customer service”.  One wonders if United may be reviewing its employee engagement level.

Employee engagement is the workforce’s emotional connection to their company’s business metrics.   I assume that customer satisfaction and proper baggage handling would be considered a critical metric for an airline.  The baggage handlers were witnessed “tossing” an expensive guitar.  How engaged were these baggage handlers?  To be fair, since I did not personally witness the incident, I can’t comment on their level of engagement. (The video did not paint a kind picture).  How engaged were the various airline personal that the musician talked to?  The video paints them as disinterested and not helpful.  Maybe I am being unfair to United (we don’t know all the facts), but it appears that they possibly have an employee engagement issue.

In the world of Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, blogs etc, the potential for PR damage from bad customer service is significant.  A few years ago, this incident would never have gotten media attention that it received today.

Two learning points

1. Customer satisfaction is more critical now than ever for a company’s survival, one bad incident has the capability to blow up into a viral nightmare.  

2.  A business is not going to have a high level of customer satisfaction unless it has a highly engaged workforce.  The two go hand in hand, if your employees don’t care about your business, they are not going to give exceptional service to your customers. 

By the way, after United made reparations, Dave Carroll did put out a You Tube Video that acknowledges the effort.  So far that video has been seen around three hundred thousand times, about 5% of the viewers who saw the first video.  Bad news travels a lot faster on the internet than good news.

In case you haven’t seen the first video you can view it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo