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MCLEOD: Wired and dangerous: The new paradigm of customer service

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

Are you dangerous?

If you have a computer you are. And if you play the guitar, you can be positively lethal.

Just ask United Airlines.

When musician Dave Carroll’s guitar was severely damaged by United Airlines baggage handlers, he was unable to find anyone at United willing to make the situation right, so he made a music video about his woes.

Customer loyalty expert Chip Bell describes Carroll’s hilarious video as “The guitar heard round the world.”

In his new book, “Wired and Dangerous: How your customers have changed and what you can do about it,” Bell writes, “Carroll posted the video on YouTube, chronicling in humorous detail United’s failure to provide appropriate service and their limp approach to repairing or reconciling the situation. This negative view of United Airlines has been viewed by well over nine million people.”

According to a blog written by The Economist, the Dave Carroll incident cost United Airlines 10 percent of share value or about $180 million.

Welcome to the new normal. It’s a service paradigm where customers truly are, in Bell’s words, “Wired and Dangerous.”

Bell who consults with organizations on strategies to support long-term customer loyalty says, “Customers today are picky, fickle, vocal and ‘all about me’ vain. With the reach and influence of the Internet they are also more powerful. If they receive poor or impersonal service they talk back — with a single snarky video or damming review, they can bring down a company.”

As a frequent flyer I cackle with glee over Carroll’s sweet Internet revenge.

Yet as a business consultant who helps companies grow sales, I shudder at the thought of how a single bad customer service incident gone viral could destroy the revenue gains we work so hard to achieve.

Bell says, “Think of social media as word of mouth on steroids.”

According to Bell’s research, 62 percent of customers who hear about a bad experience on social media stop doing business with, or avoid doing business with, the offending company.

Now, for the really scary part. Bell says that although Dave’s damaged guitar troubles happened in the spring of 2008 and his first video went on YouTube in July 2009, his video continues to harm the United brand as it hangs out in cyberspace.

Bell writes, “Unlike word of mouth which fades as other events crowd it out of memory, word of mouse missives remain out there like a tribal story repeated down the generations. They become a chronic disease that weakens a reputation even if they are without merit.”

“Wired and Dangerous” is a wake-up call for anyone who is interested in keeping their customers happy.

Bell says that to succeed in the new service paradigm it is vital that customers are treated not as cash machines, but as collaborators. In their book and on their blog — www.wiredandangerous.com — Bell and co-author Jonathon Patterson provide tested formulas for transforming today’s edgy customer into eager partners.

It’s important to note, it wasn’t the broken guitar that prompted Carroll to vent his frustrations on YouTube. It was resistance he encountered from United when he tried to get them to fix it.

Bell says, “Organizations determine the quality of the products they put out into the marketplace, but customers determine the lion’s share of whether their service has quality.”

Customers may be wired and dangerous. But when you treat them with respect, honesty and dignity, they’ll sing your praises all over the web.

Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of “The Triangle of Truth,” a Washington Post Top 5 Business Book for leaders. She is a keynote speaker, business strategist and columnist.