Customers who are mistreated can use the Internet and YouTube to make their unhappiness known. If they are as persuasive and entertaining as Dave Carroll, it can result in a viral campaign of enormous power.
United Airlines is discovering that their failure to handle a valid customer complaint has generated extremely bad publicity which will cost them millions of dollars to repair.
United Airlines baggage handlers smashed Dave Carroll's Taylor guitar on a flight from Nebraska to Nova Scotia in the spring of 2008. Passengers actually saw them doing it and Dave set about getting the problem handled.
After nine months of being passed around from one employee to another, he was finally told that United would not compensate him for the damage, even though they acknowledged that it occurred.
Dave Carroll told the person who said no (a Ms. Irlweg) that he would write and produce three songs about his experience with United Airlines and make videos to be viewed online by anyone in the world.
It is a brand new world out there. Customers with a valid complaint and a bit of talent can cancel out millions of dollars of public relations work in a few days.
Unhappy customers can bring their story to the court of public opinion and the company that fails to respond can lose market share overnight.
United is toast.
A search for United Breaks Guitars produces 19,100,000 mentions on Google
Dave Carroll and the Canadian country band, Sons of Maxwell, are doing fine. You can read the whole story on his website.