I think everyone knows someone in their organization that, if left to their own devices, would most likely inflict serious damage to it? However, if kept focused in the right direction, the same person could possibly be of great value. But what if someone outside your business, a customer perhaps, could inflict a damaging blow to your company’s share value- what then?

This week I heard such a story, perhaps you did too? Dave Carroll a customer of United Airlines had his hand made Taylor guitar broken while in their care. After a year of trying to obtain some kind of compensation, he finally gave up and took the issue into his own hands by making an entertaining video and posting it on You tube, you can see it here. More than four million hits later and the story has now being covered by all the world’s top news agencies and United Airlines is having to engage in a massive unwelcome and unexpected PR campaign.

So what went wrong? United Airline’s image of being friendly has simply fallen out of line with their customer’s perception. Their customer care policy is being tested top its limits by thousands of people who are now reacting to the video, sharing their own experiences on the net and now adding their own claims on the back of it.

Of course in this situation, Dave Carroll gains global publicity for himself and his band, United get world wide attention and a chance to put things right – but the fact remains that enormous damage has and is being done.

So my message for other businesses that have built their names and reputations on a ‘We Care’ platform is: don’t allow your perceived company culture fall out of line with the hard reality of your customer care department and the policies behind it, educate and re educate your customer contact teams to keep in line with your corporate culture. And if you find that they are two far apart, then consider re-positioning yourself because the real problem in this story is that United positioned themselves on being soft and cuddly but the public’s perception no longer supports it.

In today’s anarchic media world – businesses are vulnerable to well informed, creative and upset customers. Trust me, this is just the beginning of a wave that will spread and become common place, even impacting SME’s and local businesses. When people see an advantage in someone behaving in one way, they do not take long to follow.

Have a good week,