SUMMARY: United Airlines breaks guitars.How do I know? Social media.A viral video is an anecdotal example of customer response. In this Chart of the Week, we take a look at data from 947 customers to discover how social influencers react to customer experience failures.


After you kept doing business with (FAILNAME), which of the following best describes how you treated (FAILNAME) as a result of the failure? Now, thinking about all of the different social networks you are a part of, how many individuals would you estimate you are connected to or follow in these networks?

Social influencers are more likely to actively disparage brands that don’t serve customers …

This chart cross-tabulates the answers to the two questions listed above it, showing the average network size for groups that gave each reply to how they deal with a customer experience failure.

As you can see, customers with a bigger social footprint respond to failures more aggressively. The group that said, “I actively tried to disparage [the business that delivered a failed customer experience] every chance I got through social media and other online publishing channels” had an average social network of 1,560 — far more than any other group.

For a big brand, this can come at a major cost. For example, United Airlines spent $43.9 million in 2012 to advertise air travel, according to Kantar Media. It also spent significantly to sponsor the U.S. Olympic team at the Winter Olympics in Sochi two years later.

Much of that is feel-good branding. And yet, how much was that branding undercut by the now-famous “United Breaks Guitars” viral social media video? What if United had invested more in baggage handling to avoid that customer experience failure? What if its customer service staff had remedied the issue? The impact would not just have been on operational efficiency, but on the brand as well.

I’m not trying to only pick on one airline. No company is perfect. More on that in a bit. First, let’s take a deeper dive into discoveries from this research.

“Our recent research shows that consumers expect great experiences but are much more likely to remember negative experiences — and take them viral,” Paige O’Neill, CMO, SDL, said. “Four out of five customers who leave the brand after a negative experience say they will never come back. With this is mind, brands need to make customer experience a priority.”

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Credit: Marketing Sherpa
by Daniel Burstein, Director of Editorial Content, Marketing Sherpa

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