YouTube: Where Customers Get The Last Word

United Breaks GuitarsProfessional musician Dave Carroll spent months trying to get compensation from United Airlines to fix his $3,500 Taylor guitar after it was damaged by baggage handlers at O’Hare Airport.  After getting the final “no” from United, he composed a 4-minute video called “United Breaks Guitars.”

He posted the video on YouTube.  As of this writing it has had over 2.2 million views — and climbing. That’s in just 4 days’ time.

On his website Carroll describes what happened with his guitar in detail. Here’s the short summary in his own words:

“In the spring of 2008, Sons of Maxwell were traveling to Nebraska for a one-week tour and my Taylor guitar was witnessed being thrown by United Airlines baggage handlers in Chicago. I discovered later that the $3500 guitar was severely damaged. They didn’t deny the experience occurred but for nine months the various people I communicated with put the responsibility for dealing with the damage on everyone other than themselves and finally said they would do nothing to compensate me for my loss. So I promised the last person to finally say “no” to compensation (Ms. Irlweg) that I would write and produce three songs about my experience with United Airlines and make videos for each to be viewed online by anyone in the world. United: Song 1 is the first of those songs. United: Song 2 has been written and video production is underway. United: Song 3 is coming. I promise.”

Even consumers who don’t fly much or have a guitar identify with his plight.  The lyrics of the country song capture the level of frustration that many customers feel when their complaint lands on deaf ears:

I’ve heard all your excuses, and I’ve chased your wild gooses.
And this attitude of yours I say must go.
United, United, you broke my Taylor guitar.
United, United some big help you are.
You broke it, you should fix it. You’re liable, just admit it.

The video is professionally produced, the story is creatively told, and the song is catchy. On top of that, Dave Carroll comes across as a likable credible person.  Making it wickedly effective.

This must be a PR nightmare for United. Not only has the video achieved viral interest, but the story has been picked up by major news outlets around the world. On its Twitter account, United writes that the  complaint video has “struck a chord with us.”  Just sample a dozen or so of the 12,000+ YouTube comments.  You’ll get a feel for the overwhelmingly negative sentiment toward United.

Dave Carroll has said it is no longer about the money.  He requested that United make a donation to charity, which they have done, donating $3,000 to the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz.  But in a subsequent statement, he said he would continue with his video series and another is due out “soon.”

If nothing else, this video shows how YouTube is becoming the court of last resort, when it comes to customer complaints.  The court of last resort used to be the Supreme Court.  But heck, YouTube is easier to get into.

Customers have power.  Ignore at your peril.

Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.