The power vested in today’s consumers surpasses almost all previous measures. Before the Internet spawned a new consumer democracy, business had the upper hand. Customers’ handwritten letters of complaint held little promise of mass distribution or revolt. Today, customers can bend companies to their will through new channels of communication. Tweet your grievance on Twitter or post it on a blog, and you’ve performed the Internet-age equivalent of pulling the corner fire alarm.
In 2009, Dave Carroll bent United Airlines to his will. After the musician’s guitar was broken by a United Airlines baggage crew, Carroll sought compensation through traditional customer service, but said United stonewalled him. He switched tacks to YouTube and posted a campy song detailing his frustration, which drew 5 million viewers within weeks. Soon United offered to cover the repair cost and threw in some travel vouchers for good measure.
When the New York Times caught up with him, Carroll said of his customer service ordeal, “It crosses all income levels and languages and geographies. We all don’t like feeling disrespected or insignificant.”
In a 2008 study titled, “Exploring the Link Between Customer Care and Brand Reputation in the Age of Social Media,” Nora Ganim Barnes, a senior fellow at the Society for New Communications Research, found that 84% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: I choose companies/brands based on others’ customer care experiences shared online.