The Customer is Always Right (or at least able to convince the Internet masses they are)

On: September 26, 2010
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About Ronen Shay
Ronen Shay is a doctoral candidate completing his final year of Ph.D. studies in Mass Communication at the University of Florida, under the supervision of Dr. Sylvia Chan-Olmsted. His current research is focused on contemporary challenges in the field of media management and includes papers written on: windowed distribution strategies for substitutive television content, audience perspectives on the perceived quality of pure play distribution, factors affecting tablet adoption, the relationship between social media metrics and brand equity, and factors affecting cable television churn. He has presented his research at the 2013 AEJMC National Conference in Washington D.C., the University of Zurich’s 2014 Evolution of Media Branding Conference, the 2014 AEJMC Southeast Colloquium, the 11th World Media Economics and Management Conference in Rio de Janeiro, and the 2014 AEJMC National Conference in Montreal, Canada. Ronen was awarded the Second Place Student Research Paper (2014) and Third Place Student Research Paper (2013) from the Media Management and Economics division of AEJMC, for his work on social media metrics and brand equity, and windowed distribution strategies respectively. In 2013, he was also an Outstanding International Student Award recipient at the University of Florida, for his academic performance. His accomplishments at the University of Florida are supported by an M.A. in New Media from the University of Amsterdam, and an Honors B.A. in Communications from the University of Toronto. Ronen’s professional experience includes project management roles at Rogers Communications, North by Northeast, and Random Sounds, a freelance concert production service co-founded by Ronen, that successfully served clients in the Greater Toronto Area from 2001-2005. Ronen Shay also holds professional certifications in project management (PMP) and digital communication.


With the dominance of social networking, user generated content, and the ability to comment on just about anything, web 2.0 has changed the way consumers interact with corporations, especially when they are pissed off. Many corporations are performing the role of laggards, as they do not realize the impact of web 2.0 on their business models until it is brought to their attention. This is done by the consumers directly through a variety of online statements, videos, and discussions that can quickly turn into public relations nightmares.

On March 31, 2008, David Carroll and his band Sons of Maxwell flew on United Airlines from Halifax to Omaha, with a stopover in Chicago. Upon landing in Chicago a woman commented, “My god they’re throwing guitars out there.” David and his band’s instruments were being thrown by baggage handlers, without any regard for their delicacy (David Carroll Music, 2008). Upon finally arriving in Omaha, David Carroll found that the base of his $3500 Taylor guitar was smashed. When it became clear that nobody from Untied Airlines would compensate him for the damage, Carroll took his plight online with the following video:

9 200 321 views later, David Carroll has a record deal, been interviewed by every major news network including CNN and Fox News, was given two new guitars by a guitar manufacturer, and United Airlines made a charitable donation in his name (CNN, 2010).

A more recent example occurred in August of 2010. Tanner Bawn is a terminally ill boy who flew with his family from Toronto to New York on Air Canada. Upon arriving in La Guardia airport the family learned that Tyler’s $15 000 custom wheelchair had been reduced to pieces (CBC, 2010). Air Canada’s initial response was to provide Tanner with a regular wheelchair, and after hearing from the family that this was inadequate proceeded to provide an electronic scooter-type wheelchair that was also inadequate (CBC, 2010). Tanner’s aunt tweeted @herbadmother the events as they unfolded. This struck a cord with readers, and created what the media dubbed a “twitter storm” (MarketingMag, 2010). Within twenty-four hours hundreds of angry tweets led to Air Canada fully repairing the wheelchair to its original form, and offering the family a free trip to Disney World (CP24, 2010).

Despite the popularity of taking one’s customer service plight online, corporations do little research into the impact of web 2.0 technologies on their core business models. It is only through researching these socioeconomic impacts that a corporation or an individual could respond fluidly to future threats, or be able to predict such occurrences before they happen.  Such research would provide tangible results in the forms of increased brand recognition, a stable digital reputation, and new form of transparent online communication directly with the customer. Remember, the customer is always right (or at least able to convince the Internet masses they are).


Carroll, David. (March 31, 2008) Story.

CBC News. (August 5, 2010) Air Canada fixes ill boy’s wheelchair.

Marketer News. (August 5, 2010) Air Canada in Twitter storm over boy’s broken wheelchair.

Stern, Linda. (September 14, 2010) How to get what you want from customer service.

The Canadian Press via CP24. (August 5, 2010) Air Canada repairs broken wheelchair of boy with muscular dystrophy.

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