Guitar hero

First aired on The Current (18/05/12)

When Nova Scotia-based singer-songwriter Dave Carroll posted his catchy music video slam against United Airlines on YouTube in 2008, he was a disgruntled customer venting his frustrations with the company's customer service. Carroll had been trying to get compensation after one of his guitars broke during a flight with the airline. Little could he imagine that he would emerge as a social media star who believes his highly publicized battle with United Airlines helped to change how corporations deal with consumer complaints.

"Like everybody in these customer service mazes, it's not only frustrating to be told 'no,' but told 'I can't help you,' and 'call this number," Carroll said during a recent interview with The Current. "So when they finally did close the conversation down, I said that if were a lawyer I would sue them. I wasn't, but I had other options as a musician, and so I vowed at that point to write three songs and make three videos about my experience, post them on YouTube with the goal of getting one million hits in the next year with all three combined. And I promised the customer service rep that I would keep her tabbed on the progress, so that when the first one came out I'd let her know, and together we could get to one million that much quicker."

When Carroll went to bed the night he posted United Breaks Guitars, he had six page-views. Overnight, the link spread through social media.

"The next morning I had 300 [views], by Friday, only four days later, I had reached the one million mark."

Soon came a flood of media requests from around the world, including the Los Angeles Times, the BBC and CNN. One of Carroll's favourite moments from this whole frenzy was talking to CNN host Wolf Blitzer. He had his friends and family over for a party to watch the aired interview.

"We couldn't keep up, and we never knew who was going to call. It was always really exciting to hear the phone ring."

But Carroll also received tens of thousands of messages from people like him, customers who felt wronged by companies and spent countless hours "on hold" over the phone trying to sort out their issues with consumer reps.

united-breaks-guitars.jpg"I realized I wasn't alone and companies have realized this too. And I'm told, as I travel around the world -- I do a lot of speaking and I meet people and I hear stories -- and I'm told that big companies around the world are rethinking the ways they handle customer service, vis-à-vis social media because they realize now that each customer does matter."

Carroll went on to point out that huge companies assume they can't keep everyone happy. Instead, they "have these sort of, what I call a statistically insignificant culture, where they try to get things down to a certain target of, say 99 per cent, and they leave that one per cent out as an acceptable loss. And I think my video is a good metaphor to show that there are no statistically insignificant customers and marginalizing people is a bad idea."