Can Social Media Help Airlines Better Understand Passenger Experience?

You may remember the story about a passenger, a professional musician Dave Carroll who was denied compensation for his broken guitar. He put in some effort to make his case published on social networks and managed to artfully break the seemingly unbreakable wall of denial set by the airline’s Customer Service.

Back in 2008, Dave had his guitar destroyed by United Airlines baggage handlers and was denied compensation. After receiving a final ‘no’ eight months later, he decided to respond by switching to what he was best at — music. It took him a few months to write a song about his experience with Customer Service representatives and post it on YouTube. It immediately went viral and within four days United Airlines’ stock price plunged by 10 per cent, costing shareholders $180 million. Not long after, it has become one of the most watched YouTube videos.

The result: United relented, claiming that the company will use the video internally as a unique learning and training opportunity. The massive publicity finally triggered the compensation offer, which was on Dave’s request donated to the charity.

He later wrote a book ‘United Breaks Guitars’ describing how the power of one voice can make an impact on companies’ relationships with customers in the age of social media. Throughout the business world, people began to realise that “efficient” but inhuman customer-service policies had an unseen cost — brand destruction by frustrated, creative, and socially connected customers.

Obviously, airlines don’t take seriously enough the role of social media and other technology platforms in tilting the balance of power towards passengers. Poor passenger experiences can be transmitted quickly around the world, and as we could see, hurting the brand reputation, causing the rise in costs and revenue shortfalls.

I wonder if too-big-to-fail airlines can make a cultural shift by humanising strategies and becoming big-enough-to-care about employees and passengers. Because strategy ultimately deals with people.

I remain an optimist and have dedicated my work to making it possible. Step by step.

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Jasenka Rapajic

Challenging conventional practices by thinking and managing anew. Offering a modern approach to decision making in airline industry.