This article is based on an interview with Dave Caroll as part of the course "Change Management and Internal Communication" and explains the importance of having effective governance in place.
Sharing bad customer experiences can have a catastrophic impact on a company's reputation, image, and success. However, organizations can prevent and address such incidents by implementing effective governance. In this article, I will explore the significance of governance and change management in preventing and addressing such crises. To understand the power of effective customer service recovery, I had the opportunity to talk to Dave Caroll, whose experience with United Airlines in 2008 went viral on social media after United failed to address his claim. Through the power of music, Dave was able to put a spotlight on the importance of customer service and how businesses should take customer concerns seriously.
What went wrong?
In 2008, Canadian musician Dave Carroll had a bad customer experience with United Airlines when they broke his $3,500 Taylor guitar during a flight transfer in Chicago. Despite reporting the incident and filing a claim for compensation, United Airlines failed to adequately address the issue or provide any compensation. After nine months of unsuccessful attempts to resolve the matter, Carroll decided to take matters into his own hands and wrote three songs about his experience, the first one titled "United Breaks Guitars." The song went viral and quickly became a sensation, highlighting United Airlines' poor customer service practices and sparking a conversation about corporate accountability and customer rights.
The song's popularity was also due to its relatability. Everyone has experienced both positive and negative customer service encounters, but not everyone feels comfortable sharing their stories as Dave did.
First things first: What is governance, and why is it important?
Governance refers to the process of managing and controlling an organization's operations, resources, and policies. In the context of content creation and dissemination, governance includes roles (who's doing what and why), processes (definitions of tasks and timings), and rules (establishing policies and following standards) that guide the creation, publication, and management of content. (Halvorson, 2012)
Good governance is crucial for the success of an organization in terms of consistent decision-making, effective management and control, and adherence to regulations and laws. In the case of a bad customer experience like Dave's situation with United Airlines, governance can play a major role in mitigating the issue by identifying the root cause, implementing changes, communicating the changes to relevant stakeholders, and monitoring the results. It can either win the customer over or turn them into the company's worst enemy.
By establishing clear policies, procedures, and practices for customer service and complaints management, these kinds of situations can be prevented. They can also build trust among their customers and stakeholders and create a culture of accountability and responsibility that ensures that issues are addressed and resolved quickly and to the satisfaction of all parties involved.
While it's good to have a set of rules that people can follow and adhere to in specific circumstances, governance should also incorporate empathy and compassion.
"It's important your response comes from the heart. You need to have an honest intention that you want to do good by people or customers."
– Dave Carroll
Change Management: Lessons learned
The viral success of "United Breaks Guitars" led to a significant shift in management and internal communications at the airline. One notable change was the decision to give frontline agents the power to distribute $100 vouchers to unsatisfied customers as a form of compensation. This empowered agents to take immediate action and resolve issues on the spot rather than having to escalate the issue to higher management levels.
The impact of Dave Carroll's experience shows the power of customer advocacy and the importance of effective governance and change management in maintaining customer loyalty and reputation. This incident served as a wake-up call for United Airlines and other companies to prioritize customer service and to be more responsive to customer concerns and grievances. Companies should be present at the same channels as their customers - online. By monitoring online forums, social media platforms, and customer review sites, companies can gain valuable insights into their customers' needs, preferences, and concerns. With this knowledge, they can tailor their communication and responses to address customer concerns and improve overall customer satisfaction.
How to go about a bad customer experience?
During my conversation with Dave, I asked about his desired response from United Airlines regarding his claim. He expressed that the airline should begin by offering a sincere apology and expressing sympathy for the customer's negative experience, always presuming the customer is telling the truth. This approach can help make the customer feel valued and heard. After gathering the customer's perspective, companies should investigate the situation thoroughly and offer the best possible solution to rectify the issue. It is crucial to expect and follow up on customer feedback.
All of this should be included in the crisis management model - defined roles, specific steps, and predetermined scenarios for addressing such incidents.
What to do as a customer?
Companies and their brands are being tarnished, if not ruined by one bad customer experience, by someone who might not have been telling the truth about it. These are the reasons why companies like United don't trust their customers. So it's essential to always be fair and truthful in your criticism when sharing a negative experience. Before taking any public action:
- Try to talk to someone from the company and give them a chance to respond.
- Explain your side of the story and allow them to provide their perspective as well. If you are not satisfied with the result, it is okay to share your story but ensure that it is done in a fair manner.
- Consider using a creative approach to make your message stand out and ensure that it is heard. While it is important to share negative experiences, providing constructive feedback that can help companies improve their products or services through change management is equally important.
On the other hand, if you're happy with the business or company, share your good experience with them as well. Take the time to mention a specific employee or situation that enhanced your experience. By doing so, companies can share positive feedback internally, which can positively impact the overall company climate. Acknowledging and appreciating employees who provide exceptional service inspires them to do a better job.
It is clear that customer experience and effective governance are essential to maintaining a successful business. Dave Carroll's story is an example of how even one bad customer experience can lead to PR disasters if not handled correctly. Companies need to be where their customers are by monitoring social media channels and responding promptly with empathy when issues arise. Additionally, they must have well-defined policies in place for crisis management and create a culture of transparency within the organization to ensure trust between them and their customers. Above all, being kind and compassionate will always lead to satisfied customers. Like Maya Angelou once said, "People will forget what you did and said, but they will never forget how you made them feel."
Where to go from here
Bailie, R. A. (2023). Change Management and Internal Communication. Course materials. FH Joanneum.
Halvorson, K. (2012). Content strategy for the web. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.