You CAN fight city hall (without actually fighting): United Breaks Guitars (Book Review)
When a careless United Airlines baggage handler threw musician Dave Carroll’s guitar across the tarmac in March 2008, little did he know he’d strike a chord with millions of air travelers around the world. On that fateful day, Carroll’s guitar would suffer severe damage and set in motion one of the most successful viral music videos to date. That video lead to a global conversation about customer service, social media, self-empowerment and the value of doing the “right thing.”
United Breaks Guitars is the written follow-up to Carroll’s YouTube video and is an intriguing story that will certainly be of interest to anyone involved in customer service, public relations and social media. It is also an excellent example of how applying conscious creation concepts to a challenge can yield fruitful results both in the marketplace and in life.
After Carroll discovered his broken guitar, he spent almost a year trying to get compensation from United Airlines for repairs. At each step, he was turned away, the result of a poor customer service policy that favored United and not its customers. As his frustration mounted, he began searching for ways to share the experience with others that would cause United to take heed.
Rather than turn to legal action, Carroll decided on the one area he knew best: music. He vowed to write a series of songs and make corresponding videos to be placed on YouTube. The first song, “United Breaks Guitars,” was posted on July 6, 2009 and took only days to reach a million viewers, his original goal. In that first week, his message reached around the world and he became sought by media outlets to talk about the experience.
The idea worked, prompting United Airlines to engage him in conversations about the experience and the video. But perhaps more impressively, the United Airlines stock price actually dropped as a result of the video’s success. It’s fair to note that United did finally own up to the mistake, apologize for it and offer compensation for the repairs.
Today, with more than 12 million hits on YouTube, the video trilogy continues to gain steam while Carroll has become a sought-after speaker and consumer advocate. United Breaks Guitars dissects the experience in minute detail and gives readers a chance to understand the circumstances, the musician and the social media phenomenon that resulted from one mishandled piece of luggage.
Overall, this is an excellent account of Dave Carroll’s United experience and is useful for anyone interested in or working in customer service, social media, branding or the music business. It’s a quick, easy read and gives the audience a thorough look into the implications of social media in the marketplace and the ability for one person to truly make a difference. The book, however, may also be of interest to readers familiar with new age concepts.
New Thought Connections
When I saw United Breaks Guitars on the Hay House review website (www.hayhousebooknook.com), I was intrigued: why is Hay House—the largest publisher of self-development books—producing a book about business, customer service and social media? I must admit I hadn’t heard of Carroll’s experience prior to seeing the book title, but a quick read of the description convinced me I’d like to learn more. As a public relations/marketing director by day and conscious creator writer by night, the book seemed right up my alley.
The main storyline of UBG is certainly applicable to general business. Parts of the book read like a university textbook on customer service 101 and what can go wrong when businesses don’t take care of their customers. But it’s the understory of UBG that gently leads readers to understand the power one person can bring to the marketplace—and the world—with a good idea and a cause.
What’s important to note and what most media accounts of Carroll’s experience omit is the fact that he was not out for revenge against United, quite the opposite. Instead, he was intent on making things right in a way that respected everyone involved. So, when he vowed to write songs and produce videos about the customer service challenge, he was very clear in his goals:
“The success of UBG was not about anger or confrontation,” Carroll writes. “From my perspective, my goal was never to get revenge, but rather to compel United to take responsibility and to see that hurting their customers is damaging to their own business. I wanted them to see that there aren’t two sides to consumer stories like mine, just one: the right side. While revenge is a negative and angry emotion, my approach was anything but vengeful.”
That respectful nature was part of a larger approach, which Carroll describes as “non-confrontational.” Like many authors in Hay House’s catalog, the singer/songwriter realized that coming across as bitter and rude wouldn’t really get to the heart of the matter and could actually escalate the tension further.
With a good idea in place, Carroll enlisted the help of family and friends to make his music videos and all were more than happy to help. After all, many people at some point in their lives have had a bad air travel experience and most people thought this would be an excellent way to get United’s attention. Also, his musician friends were very supportive, knowing how important the instrument was to the performer. He was on to something big.
“Call it intuition, but I absolutely knew that I was at the start of what would be a very long process, so I made two vows to myself that day: first, I would not give up until this matter was resolved to my satisfaction; and second, I would never lose my temper in any of my interactions. I would do my best to be respectful to everyone I encountered, knowing that they were simply trying to do their job within the rules they were given,” he writes.
Carroll obviously understands new thought concepts and applied them (knowingly or unknowingly) to the situation at hand. His grace-under-fire handling of the customer service issue cut through months of deadened leads and caused an airline—and the world—to stand up and take notice. As the video gained popularity and Carroll began doing media tours, he quickly understood how letting go of results and remaining focused on his goals would help move things forward.
“As has happened so many times in my career, there were plenty of reasons to wait until all the conditions were better in order to move ahead. But once again, I took a leap of faith that doing the best you can with what you’ve got always leaves you better off than having done nothing at all. I was reminded that stepping up to make the most an opportunity is when magic occurs and that the right people will always appear for you, at just the right time, but you have to first show up yourself.”
That approach would allow the songwriter to take advantage of synchronicities that came his way, including friends and strangers donating time and effort to make the videos and help him with his new career as a consumer advocate. The first video became successful so quickly that Carroll was forced into the limelight with little or no direction. He was pioneering a new way of taking on a giant corporation through social media and the idea was working.
Nice guys finish first
What becomes immediately apparent when reading UBG is Carroll’s understanding of the power new age thought. While so many in the main stream media turned the story into that of “one guy taking on a giant corporation,” Carroll focused on doing the right thing for himself, United and seemingly-powerless consumers everywhere.
At each step in the story, the musician kept a clear head and remained focused on telling the story the way he wanted. He stuck to the facts, letting others draw their own conclusions about United or about customer service, and in the process, reveals to the reader what happens when a nice guy is compelled into action.
Millions understood the frustration, anger and bewilderment he felt with the United experience and he’s received email after email of similar stories. He’s been recognized in airports and venues around the world as the “United guy,” and he’s been able to focus that popularity into new ventures.
In addition to his music, Carroll has launched a secondary career as a consumer advocate, sharing his United story with audiences and also helping co-found the website Gripevine (https://gripevine.com), where frustrated consumers can post messages to businesses large and small in hopes of getting satisfaction. He’s become an ombudsman of sorts, standing up for the little guy and leveraging his new contacts to help businesses learn to take care of their customers.
He also used the theory of “pay it forward” as he found success with the YouTube version of UBG, donating United’s financial compensation to people and organizations that needed a little extra boost. The video and corresponding story have since been used by organizations large and small as training material about customer service and social media.
What struck me most when reading United Breaks Guitars is Carroll’s overall life philosophy, how he turned each step in the United saga into a win-win for everyone involved. That life-approach is familiar to self-development readers who will resonate with Carroll’s mission statement:
“Whatever I choose to engage in, I’ve decided to approach it with a caring and positive attitude, and I know that when I do, I attract more of the same. In the process, I’ll control the tings within my reach and worry less about the things outside it.”
This is a deceptively complex manuscript. Carroll’s clear and simple writing make it a quick read yet the story line allows for different audiences to each get something out of the book. Business-type readers will appreciate the ramifications of social media on the bottom line; consumer advocates will resonate with his ability to get United to act; while personal-development readers will take home examples of living a consciousness-centered life.
While you’re at it, check out Carroll’s first United Breaks Guitars YouTube video or check out some of his other music. In particular, “Now” is a beautiful ballad based on the work of Ekhart Tolle and other new thought pioneers.
FTC Disclosure notice
I received this book for free from Hay House Publishing for review. The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.
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