When it comes to bad customer service, seeing is believing.
That’s why viral Internet videos can bring a company to its knees – sometimes literally – begging for a second chance to fix a problem. Ordinary complaint letters don’t have that effect.
There are thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of videos about customer service missteps that can be found online. But a few go “viral” and are seen by a mass audience. We connect with them, take comfort in them and are often inspired by them.
Although we don’t know how many videos become blockbusters, there are a few clues. No one has researched viral customer videos, but a recent study by Millward Brown found fewer than 1 in 6 advertising campaigns achieve what it calls “high viral viewing” online, which it defines as more than 1,000 views per week.
There are also the view counts on the biggest hits to consider, which I’ll get to in a second. Bottom line: Very few of these productions go platinum.
I’ve been studying viral videos since YouTube popularized online videos. Here are the five biggest hits so far, as determined by the numbers the buzz they’ve created:
1. You broke my guitar, and now you’ll pay
(United Breaks Guitars, by sonofmaxwell)
This viral video has it all, which may be why it received more than 9 million views: Airlines, drama, damaged luggage, and country music.
The backstory: In 2008, the Canadian country music group Sons of Maxwell flew to Nebraska on United Airlines (UAUA). They watched in horror as the airline’s baggage handlers threw their expensive guitars into the cargo hold. Needless to say, the instruments were severely damaged.
United dragged its feet in fixing them, so the group turned the experience into a song and humorous video.
Why it went viral: It’s a music video about a bad customer experience.
And it’s a catchy tune, too.
2. Cancel the account – fast
(Cancel AOL by helltoday)
When AOL (AOL) customer Vincent Ferrari tried to cancel his account in 2006, an agent named John tried to talk him out of it. Ferrari resisted. The back-and-forth, which Ferrari recorded and then posted online, is painful to listen to – whether you’re a customer service agent or a customer. The audio recording morphed into a viral video. The employee was fired. And the rest is history.
Why it went viral: Because we’ve all encountered a customer service representative who couldn’t stop reading a script, and wished we had recorded it. Ferrari did.
3. Your call is very important to us
(A Comcast Technician Sleeping on my Couch by DoorFrame)
A YouTube user named DoorFrame, who also runs a fan blog dedicated to the movie Snakes on a Plane, posted this gem. It shows a Comcast (CMCSA) technician on hold with his own company. Oh yeah, and he’s sleeping.
The problem that prompted the service call wasn’t fixed. Two days after the video was posted and went viral, he reported, “I had a team of Comcast guys — including the head of the technical division in DC — working both outside and inside my home from 7 p.m. until midnight. After five hours of work, everything appears to be fully up and working.”
Why it went viral: An employee placed on hold with his own company? The irony!
4. If you complain, you will feel better
(Customer Service by spricket24)
This almost four-minute rant by video logger Karen Alloy is nothing but that – a cleverly edited series of thoughts about customer service, including her own experience with a nameless company. It had half a million views, which puts it up there with some of the most viral customer service videos. It doesn’t shame a particular company, but offers a Millennial-generation critique of the customer service process.
Why it went viral: She’s kinda hot. Plus, complaining makes you feel better.
5. I’m still waiting
(Bad Customer Service by maxiewawa)
This is one of the shortest of the viral customer service videos, but it’s something we can all relate to. In just 11 seconds, it shows a customer at the counter and then pans to two employees who are obviously ignoring him. We don’t have a lot of details on when or where this footage was shot, only that close to a quarter of a million people have watched it.
Why it went viral: It gets right to the point, and it’s happened to all of us.
Thinking of creating a “viral” video to get what you want from a company? There might be better ways than whipping out your camera. These videos were hits because the people who created them were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and on the receiving end of substandard customer service. That’s something no one plans for – let alone carries a video camera to record.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.