I think several factors are at play here for the success of Dave’s song on YouTube:
1. Travellers were already frustrated with United – they received the lowest customer satisfaction rating.
2. Dave is a talented musician and wrote a catchy song.
3. Along with his group of friends, he promoted it well.
4. There was truth in his video about United not treating his guitar and him well
The above actions resulted in:
1. Free publicity and business for Dave
2. A channel for angry United passengers to vent
3. 180 million loss for United
In todays world, there are numerous avenues for customers to be able to comment on products and experiences. While some of the complaints can be genuine, there can be disgruntiled customers, who may take to the internet to voice untruce concerns or complaints about companies. I think the public will receive only genuine complaints well and only those become wildly popular, like Dave’s song. United was already going through a rough patch and employee morale was probably low.Their customer service response was also not great and people were not happy with it. It does not look like the top management took any action to deal with these steps internally, before Dave’s video surfaced.
Companies should deal with customer complaints in a fair way immediately – just hoping to stop the customer by frustrating him would lead to expensive mistakes, as United learned. Offering to settle the situation right with Dave, after almost a year, was too little, too late.
Companies should also monitor social media (which United already does) and deal with customer issues immediately. Better training their employees to deal with customers, passing on unsolved issues to their superiors could be some ways for dealing with them. In such a case, even if an irate customer goes on the internet to complain, companies can have a good story to tell from their side.