When Customer Service Goes Viral: The Good and the Bad

When Customer Service Goes Viral: The Good and the Bad

In an age of social media, a story about good or bad experience with customer service is no longer confined to you and your circle of friends. A particularly egregious misstep by a call-center employee – or, for that matter, an exceptional display of customer service – has the potential to quickly go viral on social networks, bringing good or bad publicity to companies overnight. Here are a few customer service exchanges that saw widespread exposure due to the power of the internet.

When Canadian musician Dave Carroll's pricey guitar was broken during a 2008 flight on United Airlines, he made a stink with airline employees and filed a claim with the airline. When United refused to pay up, he turned to the power of music, recording a protest song entitled "United Breaks Guitars." The video exploded in popularity on YouTube, where it's grabbed more than 12.5 million views and led to widespread media attention. United quickly changed its tune in the face of overwhelming negative publicity, and Carroll went on to co-found Gripevine, a company that helps customers use social media to get better customer service.

Photo: YouTube.com

The Ritz-Carlton is famed for its customer service – one policy allows employees to spend up to $2,000 on a single customer to ensure satisfaction. And once in a while, going above and beyond goes viral. Consider the case of Joshie, a stuffed giraffe accidentally left behind by a guest's son upon checkout. Hotel staff found the stuffed animal, then took a series of pictures of Joshie enjoying his stay at the hotel to corroborate the father's story that the giraffe was simply taking an extended vacation.

The father later took to the Huffington Post to tell his story, which was subsequently shared thousands of times on Facebook and showed up in a popular Reddit thread about outstanding customer service.

Photo: YouTube.com

Having a PR professional handling your customer service doesn't always go smoothly. When a PlayStation controller peripheral missed its planned launch date, one customer with a pre-order contacted the manufacturer's

marketing firm to see whether he would be able to get his product by Christmas. The resulting exchange with Ocean Marketing's Paul Christoforo devolved into insults and name-calling ("Grow up you look like a complete child bro," the rep writes at one point), and quickly spread on social networks and in the video game press. The manufacturer, N-Control, soon cut ties with the marketing firm and offered a $10 discount to everyone with a pre-order, salvaging its standing among gamers.
Photo: Ocean Marketing | N-Control

Sir Patrick Stewart, the acclaimed actor best known for his turn as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, just wanted Time Warner to come and hook up his cable. But after waiting 36 hours for the cable guy to show up, he fired off an angry tweet noting that the experience had caused him to "lose the will to live." Time Warner's Twitter customer service representatives quickly responded, but this particular customer's high-profile ensured that the dispute would go viral. More than 1,800 users retweeted the complaint, media outlets picked up the story, and even co-star LeVar Burton (visor-wearing engineer Geordi LaForge) chimed in to share his own gripes with the company. The lesson: Don't mess with the Enterprise.

Plenty of people find reasons to complain about shipping services during the holiday season. But it's not often that poor service is caught on film. That's what happened last Christmas season when a

security camera caught a FedEx employee tossing a package over the gate, smashing the computer monitor inside. The YouTube video went viral, and has racked up close to 9 million views to this point. FedEx was forced to respond, apologizing for the lousy service and promising to compensate the customer.
Photo: YouTube.com

Social news site Reddit is known for occasionally making life miserable for companies behaving badly – observe, for instance, the role it played in leading a boycott against web registry GoDaddy for the company's support of the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act. But some companies find their fortunes lifted by appearing on the site. One user, for instance, contacted Amazon customer service after the US Postal Service lost his package; even though Amazon wasn't at fault, it gave him a full refund of the $25 purchase. A screenshot of the exchange has more than 800,000 views – not a bad PR return for $25.

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