HBR CASE STUDY
The Customers’ Revenge
Atida Motors’ decades-old complaint policy may be no match for unhappy customers who threaten to take their case to YouTube.
by Dan Ariely
IM MCINTIRE, vice president of customer service at Atida Motor Company, was just about to shut down for the day when he received an e-mail from his brother. “Go to Hell, Angel!” the subject line shouted. The message linked to a YouTube video. In “A Letter for Bill Watkins, CEO, Angel Airlines,” two stolid executives – “Jeff” and “Jerry” – wearing identical pinstripe suits, took turns narrating the story of their airline nightmare. In one scene, the pair sat chained to their coach seats in a stuffy, tarmac-stranded plane. Sweating women and children in prison garb begged for water from surly ﬂight attendants dressed as guards. In the next, the two men crawled on their knees before a leather-clad gate attendant, crowned with devil horns and holding a long whip. They begged her to ﬁnally assign them their “guaranteed” seats
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Harvard Business Review 31
HBR CASE STUDY
The Customers’ Revenge
on an overbooked plane. “Not a chance,” she replied hufﬁly. She snapped her whip dismissively and shouted, “Next in line!” In the ﬁnal sequence, the men took turns reeling off a series of probabilities. “Lifetime chances of dying in a bathtub: one in 10,000,” said Jerry. “Chances of Earth being ejected from the solar system by the gravitational pull of a passing star: one in 2 million,” said Jeff. “Chances of winning the UK’s National Lottery: one in 14 million,” said Jerry. “Chances of anyone from our 3,000person company ever ﬂying with Angel in the future: zero!” they shouted in unison. The video ended with a message to Angel’s CEO: “Now, Mr. Watkins, we’re letting the world know about your socalled customer service!”
For his part, Jim had expended a lot of energy trying to improve customer service at Atida. Historically, the 70year-old automobile manufacturer had had a better reputation for innovative styling and high performance than for service. But Jim, who had turned around customer service operations at another Detroit carmaker, had been brought on board a decade ago to change all that. The company now offered a comprehensive warranty on all its new vehicles as part of its massively promoted Red Carpet program, covering everything from transaxle repairs to the paintwork. An Atida credit card rewarded customers with accessories for their cars and apparel sporting the Atida logo. Returning customers even received a free satellite radio.
ing me to take revenge on our dental insurer. I just spent another fun-ﬁlled hour on the phone trying to get them to pay for these damn implants.” Jim pursed his lips in sympathy. “Any luck?” “I swear, Jim, it’s just been a nightmare,” she said exasperatedly. “It seems like every time I call to get help, they refer me to some new idiot who doesn’t know anything, and I have to explain everything all over again. And it’s not my fault! Maybe I should sic Michael Moore on them. Or sneak into their ofﬁces at night and smash their computers with a sledgehammer.”
A Love-Hate Relationship
“Loved that video,” said Lisa Ross, Jim’s head of customer communications, as she took a sip from her cola can. “After all that ﬂying back and forth from India last year, I can certainly relate to it!” She smiled, taking in the party atmosphere. “It sure is nice to be home for a while.” The autumn afternoon was sunny but crisp. The lunchtime smell of roasting hot dogs mingled with the tinny sound of the Beach Boys drifting over the PA system. The Detroit Chaser Club’s annual show was packed with hundreds of car enthusiasts who had come to pay homage to the 1950s model that had made Atida Motors famous. In their baseball caps and blue jeans,...
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