Who says customer service is dead?
Well, actually, a lot of us say that. With regularity.
I mean, who among us hasn't picked up the phone in an attempt to get a simple discrepancy sorted out, only to be reduced half an hour later to screaming incoherently at the sadistically cheerful recorded voice that mechanically informs you, for the 23rd time, "I'm sorry, I didn't understand your request"? And after 45 minutes of being bounced from department to department, you finally end up talking to someone in a call center halfway around the world who lackadaisically tells you that you have no further recourse. Sorry, sucker.
We've all been there, right? So has Dave Carroll. But unlike those of us who give up in resigned despair, Carroll went out and made a music video about his ordeal.
A chord of accountability
Carroll's band, Sons of Maxwell, boarded a flight on UAL's (Nasdaq: UAUA ) United Airlines in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on their way to a tour in Nebraska. On a stopover in Chicago, a fellow passenger was shocked to watch the baggage handlers on the tarmac carelessly tossing around a couple of guitar cases. Carroll's heart sank, and when he got to Nebraska, his worst fears came true -- his guitar had been broken.
Carroll spent an entire year trying to get someone at United to acknowledge the company's negligence and offer some sort of recompense. But Carroll was greeted with a noxious mixture of indifference, buck-passing, and denials. A certain "Ms. Irlweg" brought down the hammer when she told Carroll that United refused to pay up. Sorry, sucker.
Left with nowhere else to turn, Carroll put his musical gifts to work and wrote an insanely catchy little country tune about his experience. Lighthearted and funny in its approach, yet also very poignant about what happened, "United Breaks Guitars" now has almost 2.8 million hits on Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) YouTube, and Sons of Maxwell have risen from relative obscurity to become a symbol of consumer rights for everyone who's suffered at the hands of a large, impersonal corporation's customer lack-of-service.
And now, suddenly, after the incident has been exposed to the entire world, United is willing to compensate Carroll. Imagine that.
Web 2.0 strikes back
Of course, most of us regular folks don't have the resources to make an entertaining music video about our customer-service horror stories. Nor do we usually have the talent to turn those ordeals into something so entertaining that millions of people will watch our creations on YouTube. But Carroll's case does illustrate the immediate and transformative power of the Internet. The likes of Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) and Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) already give you the power to share your views on CDs, books, and movies with millions of other users. If you're looking for opinions on a matter of interest to you, you can simply head to Yahoo!'s (Nasdaq: YHOO ) Yahoo! Answers and get instant feedback. Here at the Fool, we even give you a comment box with every story, so you can sound off as soon as you're done reading this story.
And now we're seeing how Web 2.0 is transforming the Net into more than just an information-gathering resource. Companies that are used to brushing off customer complaints with breathtaking apathy are going to be called out with more frequency as consumers harness the community-building power of blogs, Twitter, and YouTube, as well as social-networking sites such as Facebook and News Corp.'s (Nasdaq: NWS ) MySpace, to make their dissatisfaction known in front of a global audience.
When customers are just impersonal figures on a ledger that can be replaced with ease, large companies can simply stop caring about good service. Rather than listen to the customer, they'll just as easily refuse to admit when they're in the wrong and present the disgruntled customer with a take-or-leave-it ultimatum. But nowadays, no matter how big and impersonal a company has grown, technology is putting the power back in the consumer's hands to hold those companies accountable for their actions.
Companies are beginning to listen. The tables are turning, one mouse click and guitar chord at a time.