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United Breaks Guitars Case Solution

Solution Id Length Case Author Case Publisher
2339 1751 Words (5 Pages) John Deighton, Leora Kornfeld Harvard Business School : 510057
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The case is about the power of social media and how the platform can be used for propagating poor customer service. The case also explores how social media can lead to global media events and crises for companies. The case explores a complaint lodged against United Airlines by an aggrieved customer who used social media platforms of YouTube and Twitter to spread music videos which detailed how his guitar was mishandled by the airline's flight attendants. The video also detailed the airline's refusal of compensation. The song was called 'UNITED BREAKS GUITARS,' which garnered a large number of online views, and generated negative publicity for the airline company. The song and the story were also picked by the mainstream media and news channels. The case, therefore, details the tools and processes of viral propagation, and how it presents restricted opportunities for firms to respond with defenses against the attacks. 

Following questions are answered in this case study solution:

  1. Why did Carroll’s videos garner so much attention?

  2. What were the main issues faced by the airlines? What did United Airlines do wrong?

  3. What should the airlines do or have done after the situation?

  4. Evaluate United’s response to Dave Carroll’s Video? 

  5. Why was this video seen by so many people so quickly?

  6. In general how should corporation prepare for the challenge posed by user-generated videos and other material disseminated over social-media? 

Case Study Questions Answers

1. Why did Carroll’s videos garner so much attention? 

Carroll’s video garnered a lot of attention for multiple purposes. Fore mostly, the context of the video focused on the poor customer service of United Airlines. Apart from Dave, a number of other customers had also been hurt by the poor service. Carroll's friend Ryan Moor took to Twitter to personally share Carol's video with individuals who had suffered from bad experiences with the airlines. The content of the message itself – which emphasized on the incident and the poor service offered by the airlines also helped in grabbing peoples' attention. The message packaging – which included its presentation as a humorous and enjoyable song was a unique, interesting, and entertaining way of getting the message across for poor customer relations management and services, which further helped Carroll garner high reviews. Lastly, the messenger of the message – Carroll himself was an infamous musician who was also the passenger himself and who used music to make his ends meet helped gather large sympathy votes from consumers around the globe. Lastly, the posting of the video on social media platforms allowed an increasing number of people to not only view the video but to share it with their friends and connections – leading to the video becoming increasingly viral with a high number of views 

2. What were the main issues faced by the airlines? What did United Airlines do wrong?

United Airlines' issues were rooted in poor customer service. Carroll, as a customer, had tried for nine months to get his claim for his broken guitar processed with the airline company. This was the first issue that the airline faced – there was delayed response to customer claims and complaints, and the process was prolonged. Carroll however, did not give up but over the months, was routed from one customer service agent to another. The airline's call center being in India did not help matters – another issue with United Airlines. The offshore staff could not directly help customers, or guide them with their requests, but could only promise to pass their claim complaints to the relevant authorities. The system in itself was designed to frustrate customers into giving up their claims.’

The employees on the airline itself were reluctant to handle the complaint directly when Carroll made it upon seeing his guitar being mishandled and refused to do so. This highlights another issue in United Airlines customer care – where physical responses and conversations with customers were downright rude and untamed. Finally, after multiple phone calls, and emails, Carroll got in touch with a manager from the airlines, who brushed off his complaints and requests for in-flight vouchers worth $1200 – the amount it had taken for repairing the guitar. This again highlighted the inadequacy of customer service training that was compromised at United Airlines. 

3. What should the airlines do or have done after the situation? 

The issue for United Airlines was not the rage on social media or the viral song on the internet. Instead, the crux of the crisis faced by United Airlines was rooted in poor customer service – which was there even before Carroll’s video was released. The response and compensation offered by United Airlines have been very standard. Instead, the company should have made more genuine promises to ensure current and potential customers that such an incident would not repeat itself. This means that the response should have had a more futuristic appeal in it – where United Airlines would have ensured customers those administrative actions for addressing and improving customer services and avoiding mishaps have been taken. Moreover, these actions should transparently be announced and communicated with the audience as well to help rebuild trust in the airline company. This would have helped the company protect itself against future brand erosion, as well as helped it restore its reputation. 

More importantly, the airline should have offered compensation to Carroll after making contact with him through his claim request. It is important to realize that this strategy would have satisfied not only the aggrieved customer but would have created goodwill for the company amongst other potential customers as well. The company could have similarly created its own positive message on social media after having compensated Carroll, and have created positive publicity and buzz for itself. It would have helped the company build a positive brand image in the short as well as the long term. 

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