United Breaks Guitars

United Breaks GuitarsNow this is how to leverage the web!  Check out a new song by Dave Carroll called United Breaks Guitars.  And for more on the story behind the song visit Dave Caroll Music.  We’ve all had frustrating experiences with poor service and it’s really amazing that such a scene can actually occur.  I myself had a small tiff with a stewardess… I mean flight attendant… on United recently.  She wanted my 2 year-old son to leave the seatback phone in the holder and I thought the relative value of the inflight phone service (nearing zero) and the distinct advantage of having a 2 year-old entertained while the flight boards (priceless) were a good trade off.  My wife was worried I’d get us kicked off the plane for an FAA safety violation (see Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents) but I backed down.

It is quite fun to poke at these people for being so mean, difficult, or otherwise ornery.  But the real issue isn’t the person involved, these incidents are symptoms of a much larger core issue.  Bad service comes from companies that don’t take care of people.  United isn’t about “destination management” they are about airplane management, so they emphasize mechanical and safety issues, not human ones.  Sure, they say they are there for “your safety” but really they are there to control things. When Southwest Airlines hit the scene with an emphasis on people and the customer experience, they immediately became the most profitable airline around.

Another example is the battle between Microsoft and Apple.  While Microsoft has a clear advantage in revenue and profitability (so far), it is clear that customers prefer the Apple experience.  When a single business can dominate an industry so fully like Microsoft or United, they can get away with poor service because customers can’t vote with their wallets.  But as soon as that advantage is removed, the crash and burn is inevitable (and fast)… as in Kmart versus Walmart.

I think this is so obvious I can’t imagine why other businesses don’t pull it off.  But just in case it’s not that clear to everyone, here’s a few reasons it works:

1. People make buying decisions, so treating people well leads to more favorable buying decisions.

2. The loyalty effect is an important driver of sustained profitability.

3. If you want your customers to be treated well, you MUST treat your employees well.  See the Service Profit Chain for more on how this works.

Got any more points to add?