By Allan Maurer
Hold the lettuce, please. A Burger King franchise put its foot in the food you put in your mouth recently if a photograph that surfaced on the Internet of an employee stomping on the sandwich lettuce is the real deal.
The picture was posted on the website 4chan.org, and GPS data embedded in the photo led to the restaurant.
The franchise fired three employees at the Northeast Ohio Burger King restaurant, but once something like that hits the Internet, the damage is often already done to a company’s reputation.
“I don’t know if they did anything wrong except hire people they shouldn’t have,” says Dave Carroll, founder and CEO of customer relationship resolution platform, Gripevine.com. He says they might also want to “Apologize, apologize, apologize and make people realize they understand a disgusting thing happened.”
Carroll got into the conflict resolution business after United Airlines damaged a $3,500 Taylor guitar on a flight he took from Halifax to Omaha several years ago.
United gets a lesson in what one voice can do via social media
“Baggage handlers were seen throwing the guitars around in Chicago,” Carroll says, and indeed, when he retrieved the instrument, it had $1,200 worth of damage. He contacted United, which told him he had to report it at the departing airport, not where he was. Later, the company told him he hadn’t reported the damage within 24 hours so the case was closed and he would not receive any compensation.
Carroll proceeded to show United that it is a bad idea to display poor customer relationship skills in the age of the Internet and social media. With donated help from his friends, he created the first of three videos,” United Breaks Guitars, which got a million hits in four days and landed on Time Magazine’s list of the Top Ten Most Viewed YouTube Videos of 2010. Google sent him congratulations on having one of the most viewed videos in the history of YouTube.
A business magazine later reported that the entertaining but scathing video resulted in a short term precipitous drop in United’s stock price (for a loss of $180 million in value) while Taylor Guitars had its best year ever, with sales up 25 percent for a discretionary item in a recession.
It even led to a small part in an Olympia Dukakis movie for Carroll’s grandmother, who briefly brandishes a cane in the video. “They called and I thought they wanted me, but then they said, can we talk to your grandmother,” Carroll says.
While the impact on United may not have been permanent, it certainly got their attention. The company contacted Carroll seven months later and offered him vouchers and $1,200 in cash, saying it wasn’t because of the video, they would do it for any customer. But Carroll turned down the offer, preferring to keep his videos online.
“At that point it wasn’t about compensation,” he says. “It was about my decision to do something in the face of their decision to do nothing.”
The experience led to a speaking career in which he talks about social media, and he created Gripevine with serial entrepreneur Richard Hue, and just published a book, United Breaks Guitars.
“It shows how the power of one consumer can affect the bottom line of your company,” Carroll says.
Gripevine lets consumers amplify their voice
Gripevine, he explains, is intended to provide a way for consumers to amplify their voice and also for companies to reply. The site came out of beta in February and Carroll says that consumers love it, but so do companies because it offers them an efficient way to handle complaints.
“We created Gripevine to provide a neutral, fair and level playing field where consumers and companies can come together to work out their differences and arrive at successful resolutions to common consumer complaints,” he says.
While anyone can browse “gripes” for free, the site charges businesses for premium access to an Enterprise Dashboard. Customers include Hewlett Packard, Coca Cola, Walgreens and Sprint.
The site has seen media coverage on CNN Money, MSNBC.com, TechCrunch and other outlets.
“About 20 percent of gripes on the site are being resolved,” Carroll says.
Carroll advises companies, “Don’t just dip a toe in social media. Jump in with both feet. Companies need to understand its potential and see it as an opportunity, instead of a risk. If they solve a problem with a customer, they’ll have them for the next 20 years.”
He adds, “It’s a mindset. In time all companies will embrace social media or they’ll be irrelevant.”
Here’s Carroll’s original United Breaks Guitars video:
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