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No Customer is Statistically Insignificant: Inside Scoop with Dave Carroll 

Dave Carroll | Jul 3, 2012 406 views No Comments

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CustomerThink Founder/CEO Bob Thompson interviews Dave Carroll of United Breaks Guitars fame about what lessons businesses can learn, a new website giving all consumers a voice, and his new book.

Interview covers the following topics:

Interview recorded May 31, 2012. Transcript edited for clarity.


Transcript

Bob Thompson:
Hello, this is Bob Thompson with CustomerThink. For this episode of Inside Scoop, we have a very special guest, Dave Carroll, who is quite famous for his United Breaks Guitars video on YouTube. We’re going to be talking about how his life and his work has changed since that happened. It has been almost three years since the video was produced. We’ll also talk about his new website—Gripevine, and his new book.

Dave, welcome to Inside Scoop. It’s great to have you on our program.

Dave Carroll:
Thanks, Bob. Great to be here.

Bob Thompson:
In 2009 you were at the RightNow conference in Colorado Springs, at the Broadmoor Hotel.

Dave Carroll:
Right.

Bob Thompson:
I was there, as well. I saw your speech on the stage, and I was amazed that United Airlines had actually lost your luggage on that trip, after all that had gone on.

Dave Carroll:
That was my very first speaking event ever, so I was really nervous about the whole thing. I had never really, aside from doing some introductions on stage—even in the band, my brother did most of the talking. So, I was really nervous about the whole presentation, and it was kind of a gift because that really broke the ice, if you remember. Instantly people went to their devices and started tweeting that, and that ended up being front page news on the New York Times business section.

Bob Thompson:
Yeah, yeah, I actually wrote an article about it, as well, and it’s just been an amazing story. Actually, going back a few years prior to that, I had had a series of less than great experiences with United Airlines. And the thing that kind of was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me is coming back from a trip to London, and my bags ended up in Australia for a week. I ended up posting an article on my newsletter, and I had 200,000 people on my newsletter list. I wrote a pretty angry, frustrated article on there, basically saying that I was never going to fly United Airlines again.

But your video obviously took it to a whole new level. And so, I wonder if we could just talk a little bit about, first of all, what’s changed with you and what you do in your life and your work, since that video has been such a big hit. Tell us about Dave Carroll and what you’re doing.

Dave Carroll:
Sure. The day that I posted that video, I had been a 20-year independent singer/songwriter, mostly in the group, Sons of Maxwell with my brother, Don. And I had just sort of started, in addition to that, a solo project called Perfect Blue, and basically sustained myself through my music as an independent singer/songwriter. And within four days of launching that video, the video went viral instantly and I reached my goal of one million YouTube hits with three videos—just for the first one in only four days. And it threw me into a media frenzy that I wasn’t prepared for, and it just consumed our lives, because we were committed to answering every interview request that came in, whether it be a small one or a blogger or a major newspaper or television.

For the next few weeks, it was just 24/7 almost because I would do daytime media, then West Coast stuff. I live in the East Coast in Canada, so I would do West Coast media in the evening, get a few hours sleep and then do European media. I’d get up at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and start doing that, and it was tiring and exciting. You never know who was going to call, and it’s turned into other opportunities through that—again, that I didn’t expect.

I’ve been invited to do speaking, literally around the world, to big and small organizations and companies on customer service and branding and social media and even self-empowerment. And I’ve launched a website called Gripevine, as a consumer advocate, because 10,000 people congratulated me but asked for help or said, “I don’t have a voice. I wish I had a voice to share my own customer service issue.” And so, Gripevine is an answer to that. And I’m also an author now with the book that you mentioned called “United Breaks Guitars: The Power of One Voice in the Age of Social Media.” So, I do four things now when I used to do just one.

Bob Thompson:
And you’re still putting out a lot of music and touring and all that as well, right?

Dave Carroll:
I am. I’ve been plugging away at a new record that has taken longer than I wanted, but it should be out in about a month, and planning shows. And it’s nice to put out a record that has nothing to do with customer service for a change, and we’ll see where that goes.

Bob Thompson:
Yeah, that’s great. My brother’s actually a professional musician. He’s been in the business for, I don’t know, 30-some years. He’s put out a few CDs and I’ve always been amazed at just how much work it is and how technical some of the work is just to get a CD produced. It’s a lot of technology behind it, and a lot of talent obviously has to go into it as well.

Dave Carroll:
Oh, for sure. And just before we started talking—I’m working on my record right now. So, I’m editing some vocals and I’ve got three passes of the same song, and I’m laboring over which word I’ll use in certain spots, and most people will never notice. They don’t know what we go through as artists for them.

Lessons Learned from “United Breaks Guitars” Video

Bob Thompson:
Yes, well, United Breaks Guitars is such an amazing story. Can you sum up one big impact that it’s had on business?

Dave Carroll:
The biggest lesson for me that I hope people pick up in the book, and what I try to say at the speeches and presentations, is that we are all connected. And it never really occurred to me how connected we really were until I experienced this, and I go around the world and I see for myself how connected we really are with other people. And if you buy into that philosophy that we are, then it changes the way you treat everybody on either side of the equation, that customers will be nicer to the front line customer service reps, and they will be nicer to you, and your bosses will be nicer to the employees.

And I’m not sure that’s what businesses take away as the biggest lesson. For them, though, I think the big lesson would be that social media is here to stay and that every customer does have a voice, and that there are no statistically insignificant portions of your customer base anymore, where it’s not OK to shoot for 98 percent satisfaction, that the 2 percent that are left in the margins do have a voice that doesn’t feel good and that they do have the power to affect your brand negatively if you let them go. So, I think companies that really understand that are embracing this idea of every customer has a voice. But if you take care of all of your customers or try to at the outset—knowing that you probably never will, but if that’s your philosophy, you’ll have better outcomes than just shooting for mostly right most of the time.

Bob Thompson:
Yeah, I think that’s a great quote. I found that a couple of different places—”no customer is statistically insignificant”—and I have to say that that’s been one of my big concerns. I got into my business in 1998, and the buzzword at the time was CRM, customer relationship management. A lot of companies are thinking about it kind of like as you mentioned. That we’re going to be very targeted. We’re going to focus our resources and we’re going to treat our best customers well and we’re going to try to get rid of our bad customers or basically not give them good service if we don’t have to. Even though they didn’t say it explicitly, I think there was this feeling like, well, what are they going to do about it? They’re one of thousands or maybe millions of customers. We don’t have to do it if we don’t want to because customers don’t have any power. Social media has really changed that thinking quite a lot. You’re the classic example, of course, of how one person really can change things.

Dave Carroll:
Yeah, I agree. Most people in the world probably still believe that they don’t have a voice. And that was one of the things I heard from people when they were saying congratulations—”I don’t have a voice”—because they think now the only way to reach out to companies is through music—if you’re not a musician, you have no voice. But really it involves creativity and doing something that you love. I love writing songs, so it was easy for me and it never felt like work. But there are ways to communicate, thanks to social media, that everybody can enjoy, and they can do it in a way that doesn’t feel like work—and non-confrontationally I think is another key point.

Bob Thompson:
Yeah, and I also thought it was very interesting, the way that you did the initial video. You put your own time into it, and I’m sure it was quite a lot of time and effort. But you got people to volunteer to help you out, and you only spent, as I understand, $150.00 buying some costumes and some lunch and things like that, that you got your friends to rally around and work with you to help make this happen.

Dave Carroll:
That’s right.

Bob Thompson:
Fantastic.

Dave Carroll:
That’s another aspect of social media. The nature of it is that you can crowdsource your results and you can get people to help you because they believe in your cause, and it’s because I didn’t take a confrontational, angry approach to the song that made people laugh, and humor brings people together. And so, all my friends volunteered their time and their expertise, and the results speak for themselves.

Bob Thompson:
Well, we’ll talk about your book here in just a second, but as I was reading a little bit about the incident back in 2008 where your Taylor guitar was broken—and I know what a relationship you have with your instruments, from talking with my brother, so I totally get that. But it’s amazing to me—you had that thing packed and protected not only in a hard case, but you had an inner protective case, as well. I mean, this thing was really well protected, and it still got severely damaged. So, I just can’t imagine what they had to do to that guitar to get it to be damaged as it was.

Dave Carroll:
That’s right. Taylor Guitars makes an above average hard shell case which has a nice skin on the outside of it. So, that’s why I had a foam case made to fit that like a glove to protect the case. And like Bob Taylor said, himself, if you take any guitar case and throw it down a mineshaft, it’s going to be damaged. It’s built for certain tolerances, and if there’s been a lack of care—air time and distance should never be a factor in moving an instrument, and I think my guitar saw both of those that day.

Bob Thompson:
All right. So, just the last question about that original incident—has United Airlines changed, in your view, since all this happened?

Dave Carroll:
I think in a few areas, they have. One thing I noticed when I lost my luggage on the way to that speaking event is when I called the 1-800 number, the person on the other end was empowered to offer me a $150.00 future flight credit as inconvenience, and I think that may have had something to do with the video, that they’ve decided to maybe allow front line agents to at least extend some sort of courtesy before the thing gets out of control.

I know that they’re monitoring social media a whole lot more these days. I just flew United on the day Continental and United merged. I had a Continental ticket and I had no problem getting through. I have great experience. I checked in, I went through security and then somebody approached me and said, “You’re Dave Carroll, right?” And I say, “Yes, I am,” and they said, “I know because I was behind you at check-in, and the minute that you were through and a manager came up and the employee said to the manager, ‘Don’t worry, I was nice to him.'” They had been told by Facebook that I was coming in at 1:30 in the morning, so, they were aware.

Bob Thompson:
So, you have a special sort of elite status that’s not on any frequent flier program.

Dave Carroll:
Well, I don’t get any upgrades of any kind with them, but I think they know when I’m coming or going.

Giving Consumers a Voice with Gripevine

Bob Thompson:
Yes. OK, all right, well, let’s turn and talk about one of your latest ventures, Gripevine, which is a new website. So, tell me about what that site is about and why you decided to launch it.

Dave Carroll:
Well, Gripevine is sort of my answer. As I said earlier, I received all these e-mails from people who felt that they didn’t have a voice, and Gripevine is kind of the answer to that. But part of my success with this story is, again, that it was handled non-confrontationally. So, this site is not about coming to just bash brands and to scare them into resolving things. It’s about resolutions and a fair and open playing field.

There’s two sides. There’s a consumer side and the enterprise side, and for consumers, we invite them to come to Gripevine because we can give them a voice and amplify their voice by allowing them to take as long as they want, as much bandwidth as they need to state a gripe with a specific company. They can name it, and then if it’s a box store, for instance, you can find the exact location and declare that, say what happened, and then most importantly, say what your resolution is, and then you hit plant your gripe.

And then that’s where we grab that and we use a proprietary response technology, and we circumvent the front line agents and we send it to decision makers at the company. And those people—now to the enterprise side—they get an e-mail saying, “You have a gripe about your company on Gripevine. Go and claim your page if you haven’t already.” And by doing that, they can see what the entire gripe is with this customer. They know in one reading what happened and what the resolution is, and they can take action in a way or pass it along to somebody without having to have the customer repeat the story 10 or 100 times. And it seems like, to me, a great way to bring both sides together. The companies can communicate offline with the customer, which is what I know they prefer to do.

And we have a really interesting enterprise dashboard that allows companies to customize their responses and keep things in process, see what is resolved and know what’s going on and organize the amount of gripes coming in.

Bob Thompson:
OK, well it sounds like a fabulous idea. How many businesses are signed up and connected with your website so far?

Dave Carroll:
We just came out of beta in February, so these are still sort of early days, just four months in. And we’re offering all of our features, we’re extending those on an ongoing basis, and we’re offering all of the features free for the first six months. So, we have another two months available for people to enjoy that. There are over 100 companies now that have joined up. Many of those are actually Fortune 1000 companies like Coca-Cola. We have 25,000 visitors per month roughly coming in, with about 6,000 or 7,000 gripes having been posted. And we’re happy to report that about 20 percent of those are being resolved.

Bob Thompson:
OK, so that’s off to a great start.

Dave Carroll:
Yeah, I’m happy.

Bob Thompson:
So basically what you’re offering is an alternate channel for resolving some customer service problems. So, the presumption is that the consumer hasn’t been able to get something fixed through the normal process, or maybe they just didn’t know who to call. Is that fundamentally why people would come and use Gripevine if you’re a consumer?

Dave Carroll:
That’s what people are assuming is the thing to do. When you can’t get any satisfaction, go to Gripevine. But we’re suggesting use it as a first call resolution because if you don’t know the 1-800 number or you don’t know who to call or you know the first person you call won’t be able to address it, then just go to Gripevine and we will help you as a first call.

Bob Thompson:
Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. I just had an experience with my DSL provider. They have a very complicated website. I couldn’t figure out who to call. They’re pushing me to self-service to do this and do that, and I’m thinking I just want to connect with a person, with somebody that’s going to at the very least, just point me to what I should do next. I ended up posting on Twitter and then somebody responded and I got off on my way, and a lot of people ended up working on the problem I was having.

I think there is some frustration that we have always had for channels of customer service and communication between customers and businesses in where do you start? So, your vision is that you want consumers to come here first?

Dave Carroll:
Yeah, I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t because we’re fully integrated with Facebook and Twitter, as well. I had a problem with Lufthansa Airlines. They lost our instruments on our way to Siberia. And I used Twitter to solve the problem because it was before Gripevine. I just went to Twitter, and I heard back from them. But Twitter being what it is, I had 140 characters to say what I wanted, and they had to send a few messages, and it went back and forth that way. Had I had Gripevine, I could have planted my gripe there. I would have been able to say everything that happened, all the information they needed and what the resolution was, and they could have been able to engage that way.

It’s the same on the company side with so many other options coming available. Gripevine monitors all the conversations, not just those on Gripevine. And if you buy into this idea that social media is here to stay, then never mind how many millions of people are using it now. How many millions are going to be using social media five years from now? And they’d better have a process in place to handle this massive influx of conversations, or you leave yourself open to serious potential brand annihilation.

Bob Thompson:
Yeah, and on a positive note, if a company’s very aggressive in saying, “Look, if you want to post it on Gripevine, we’ll help you there.” I think there’s been kind of this undercurrent of fear is one theme that I’ve seen in social media, which is one incident really can do a lot of damage to your brand. There’s been a number of others besides United Breaks Guitars that I could cite for that. It’s kind of unfortunate that there’s this sort of negative theme of complaining and dealing with issues.

But I’ve been getting a lot of positive press out of how some companies deal with customer service—like Zappo’s, for example. I’m hoping that as things move along, that companies will turn this into more of a positive, as opposed to preventing a negative. Do you think that’s likely to happen?

Dave Carroll:
Well, it’s happening. I see it, myself. When I go to do speaking events, I sometimes get to hear other speakers in the space and I learn a lot. Scott Monty from Ford was speaking at one of the events I was doing in San Mateo, and he was talking about how Ford Motor Company uses social media as an opportunity to build business. He gave the example of the Fiesta line of cars that they gave, let’s say, 100 to Americans around the country and said, “Drive it and live with it for a few months, and the only obligation is to make a video post infrequently, but occasionally, and tell all your friends anything you think about the car.” That says a lot about the company because to do that, you have to believe you already have a winner, and they did. They were really happy with the Fiesta line.

Then they found out that there were certain things they could have improved upon that their engineers hadn’t thought of, things like moving a little drink holder a little bit one way or the other. When they crowdsourced all of this extra feedback that they hadn’t thought of themselves, they improved the car. When it went to market, they knew they really had something that consumers wanted, and they ended up having 10,000 advance orders for a vehicle that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. And they saved millions of dollars in the traditional form of advertising for the car. So for them, it was a conversation starter and a way to reach out to new customers and build alliances. They get it.

Bob Thompson:
Yeah, that’s a great story. Scott Monty’s actually been active on our site in responding to a comment. I was more impressed with the fact—and I think he was just using something simple like Google Alerts—but somebody posted something about Ford and mentioned his name—it might have been me, actually. The next day, we got a comment, a very thoughtful response. Just goes to show that if an individual or a company really wants to be active and to be responsive on social media, they can. It doesn’t always require a lot of fancy technology.

Dave Carroll:
And it doesn’t have to be a big company thing either. I know in my own businesses, somebody tried to order a book on Amazon.UK in the UK, and they were going to get it, then they weren’t. I have no idea how that operations works, but they e-mailed me, so I reached out to the publisher, and they were blown away that I did that. But they’re my customer. It’s a sale Amazon lost, but I lost it, as well, and I’m going to be associated to that. So, it’s in my interest to reach out to them and I now have someone who will come to my show the next time I’m in England.

Bob Thompson:
Absolutely. As you say, we’re all connected.

United Breaks Guitars, the Book!

Bob Thompson:
All right, well let’s wrap up. You mentioned Amazon. As I said when we were just getting ready to kick off this interview, I actually bought your new book on Amazon. I got it and have been reading it on my Kindle. It’s really a great story. What I really admire about what you’ve done, Dave, is taken this incident and not only put out the video, which solved your problem ultimately, but you helped a lot of other people. Tell us a little bit about what’s in your book and what people can get out of it if they buy it.

Dave Carroll:
Sure. The book gives a little bit of a background about how I got involved in the music business and some of the lessons I learned from our dad. He was a great dad. He’d come and sing songs to my brother and I when we were going to sleep. He never really knew all the words or all the music, but it never stopped him. And his policy is if you don’t know the words, you play louder, and if you don’t know the music, you sing louder. But don’t let that get in the way.

That’s kind of the way I approached United Breaks Guitars, where I didn’t say, “I only have a $50.00 budget, I guess I can’t make a video.” So, I take people through the process of empowering yourself to believe that your message is strong enough and you don’t have to wait till you’re perfect to share your message. I take them through what it was like to be in a media frenzy from someone with no experience in that, and who didn’t expect it and how exciting and crazy it was.

I give away six free songs in the book as digital downloads as an added value. I give people the lessons about business and about why each customer matters in the age of social media. And in a sense, it’s a how-to story on how to make a viral video, using my anecdotal evidence in how I arrived at it.

Bob Thompson:
All right, well I’m glad you mentioned the digital download. I had missed that so far, so I’m going to make sure I get that so I can listen to your music.

Dave, it’s been really a pleasure to talk with you. This is not only a wonderful story, but you’re also a genuinely good human being. I appreciate everything that you’ve done to take this incident and really help change the industry and help companies treat their customers better. It’s just fantastic.

Dave Carroll:
Thanks very much, Bob, I appreciate the kind words.

Bob Thompson:
Thanks for being with me on Inside Scoop.

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