your call is very important


I sketched this cartoon while on hold with United Airlines last week. I spent a total of two hours and 12 minutes with United over four separate phone calls trying to get home from New York after the storm, so I had a lot of time to think about service.

Many brands fall down on service. They view it as a cost center. Yet, all the marketing dollars invested in animated TV ads and direct mail mail pieces can be evaporated by a couple bad service experiences.

Marketers dream of having a captive consumer audience. Most brands struggle for attention. United had two hours and 12 minutes of my time. I was captive all right. But as I listened to the George Gershwin United theme song over and over again, I had time to think about all of my frustrations with United (and question just how much that Premier Executive frequent flyer status was worth it).

Of course, bad weather isn’t United’s fault. But, dealing with the aftermath of bad weather is simply part of being an airline. Excelling at resolving situations when things go wrong is part of how any brand is judged.

A few years ago, I interviewed with Apple for a marketing role with AppleCare, their service and support plan. At first, I didn’t see how a service plan was even marketing. But then I realized that the moment Apple products break is exactly the moment that Apple proves itself as a brand. The genius at the Genius Bar or the AppleCare phone operator are front-line brand managers. Those experiences directly drive how a consumer feels about a brand, and what stories they share with others.

If you haven’t seen it already, take a look at Dave Carroll’s music video that captures his rough service experience with United. His experience obviously touched a nerve. The video has been seen 9.9 million times and Time Magazine named it the seventh most viral video in 2009. The Times even speculated that the video and bad PR fallout prompted a 10% stock price drop for United. Service is as much a part of marketing as the four Ps.

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9 Comments

  1. CoCreatr says:

    To all the Uniteds of this world: Your biggest competitor ever is your customer’s last experience with you.

  2. Rob Cottingham says:

    So maybe the follow up to “United Breaks Guitars” is “United Breaks Brand Promises”…

  3. Carol L. Weinfeld says:

    Agreed: “Service is as much a part of marketing as the four Ps.” Front-line customer service employees represent their organization’s brand. Companies need to ensure that these employees exemplify excellent customer service, so that customers have a positive brand experience.

    @clweinfeld

  4. Mansi says:

    I think great companies no longer give importance to customer service. Just facing a problem with a renowned ISP in India. Excellent product but equally bad service. Bill errors, incessant calls for selling their new products, a not functioning DND service etc. But the option between one ISP and the other is so limited in the country that you have no choice but to bear with the torture, resiliently. There will come a time when consumers will vent and vent their anger in such a way that great companies will shut shop because of poor service.

  5. [...] drew the following cartoons after similar experiences with United and Vonage. AKPC_IDS += "1611,"; PREVIOUS: birth of an [...]

  6. [...] another cartoon on this theme drawn from my experiences with United. And here’s an hysterical mock inflight [...]

  7. Ron says:

    In today’s world 1-800 has become obsolete. The cost of the call is not a problem anymore, most people have unlimited talk plans. It is time the companies adopt the “save you time” model. ( I personal note, I am the founder of company that built that solution)
    The idea is simple: make it easy for me to contact you, easy for me to share my thoughts with you and simple for you ( business ) to contact me. Why spend 2.2 hours? 45sec ( my company) is the new 1-800. We make it effortless for both sides to communicate.
    I wanted United to use it, but it is very hard to work with large companies when you are a small start-up.
    BTW- I started this company because I United employee gave me a great service and I tried to tell them that they have a super star working for them. I wanted his manager to know that.

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