By Quentin Langley
United Airlines has featured heavily in this blog, in my teaching and training and in the book Brandjack. The United Breaks Guitars brandjack was a classic. Dave Carroll was not a household name, but managed to produce a highly amusing viral video which hit the airline hard.
Your editor has been sceptical about claims that this was the direct cause of a $180 million decline in United's share price in a period of four days. The share price did decline, but airline stocks are notoriously the volatile, and other airline share prices fell at the same time. But if only ten percent of that decline was attributable to the video then it is still far more than the value of the guitar.
On the day the video came out a Vice President of United phoned Dave and asked him if they could use the video in staff training. That certainly sounds like a learning strategy. But, as everyone now knows. United has not been learning.
This video has been widely viewed, but is worth sharing again.
The cost to the airline in terms of its reputation, whether measured in the immediate share price or the expected future earnings, is sure to be considerable. It would have been simpler and far cheaper to have engaged in a Dutch auction. United apparently offered up to $1000 for customers to agree to be bumped, but even 50 times that would have been cheaper than the damage this video has inflicted on the company. It would have been simple to have kept raising the offer until someone accepted.
But United must have known that forcibly evicting the customer would have been filmed. The odds of someone having a camera there were 100%. It has exposed the company both to harsh (and justified) criticism and to mockery.
As Jason Steele put it on Twitter:
Don't worry about the bad press, @united! I mean, what company HASN'T beaten a customer unconscious for wanting the service they paid for?
Despite the experience with Dave Carroll, United apparently hasn't learned anything. Learning is not just something that happens in a corporation, it is a decision. Learning needs to be embedded.
Get to it, guys.