Broken Guitars and Missed Opportunity

The song is about a broken guitar, the company in question is an airline, but the message is crucial for building product manufacturers.

The story, in brief: Musician David Carroll’s guitar was broken by, he claims, baggage handlers on a United flight. He contacted United about the incident, but became so frustrated that he promised to write three songs about the incident; here is the first:

The video instantly became a viral success, with well over 4 million views so far, mentions on the evening news, in news papers, and forums across the internet.

Needless to say, United is not happy.

Responses have favored both sides. My mother is a music teacher; she and her colleagues have discussed the video extensively. Typical of their responses is this:

“If he had been flying Southwest or Delta you’d have the same situation, different song title, because baggage handlers throw luggage...It’s the owner’s responsibility – who else? – to pack fragile items so they are protected in transit.”
Imagine this happening in the construction industry. No one gets off the hook, and the repercussions are measured in lawsuits and dollars instead of videos and viewers.

The real problem, though, is not the baggage handling or broken instrument, but the customer service failure. Baggage gets broken, we all know that; if you're really worried about a bag you take it as a carry-on, or have professionals ship it to meet you at your destination. The problem, the reason he's upset and writing these songs, is because of the (in his mind) disrespectful, unhelpful treatment he got from United. The song is about guitars, but the message is about customer service.

Customer service is a vital part of every business. I love it when customers called in with complaints because it gives me an opportunity to strengthen the relationship by addressing their problems, and shows me what needs to be fixed.

The way unhappy customers react depends a lot on how they are treated. Treat them well and they leave satisfied. The fact that you listened to them and supported them is very meaningful, so much so that it sometimes overshadows the actual incident that led to the call. Treat them poorly, however, and you poison the relationship. You lose not only their business, but all their friends and co-workers that hear the story.

In the age of social media, these poisoned stories spread with lightening speed, which is one of the reasons it is important to monitor how people talk about your company and product. More importantly, be sure your customer service is helpful, responsive, respectful, and polite so that the stories never get started.


A few days after the video was posted, there was an interesting response. The manufacturer of a line of folding, air-travel-friendly guitars offered Dave Carroll a free guitar. The video is not high quality, but it is a great example of using social media trends to promote your product.