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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Not a squeaky wheel? Make a video! United Breaks Guitars Review

The first thing I did when I heard of this book was to wrack my brain on what I was doing when the “United Breaks Guitars” video came out in 2009 because I have no recollection of ever seeing it. At the time I was working as an office manager for an understaffed private school and found little daylight for viewing anything online that wasn’t pertinent to my job, even something humorous or related to cute animals doing remarkable things (dark days indeed).

As someone clueless about “UBG” I read this book because I’m interested in memoir writing and customer service and was intrigued by David Carroll’s story. My first fear was that the subject would be too thin to stretch into a book of almost two hundred pages. I decided to not view any of the author’s three videos until after I read the book to see if a non-fan would find the story compelling.  It turned out to be a quick read but it got less gripping after what Carroll calls “the frenzy” following his first video going viral.

His experience wasn’t remarkable in itself—he found that his guitar was broken a day after his trip.  The reader hopes lesson #1 was learned here (I.e., to not wait until you’re out of the airport to check your belongings if you suspect damage). Carroll’s approach to resolving the conflict was chivalrous. He promised not to get confrontational during the frustrating process of reimbursement and ended up failing to gain a resolution in his favor, thus inspiring him to create a video about his experience. I wondered here how often a “squeakier wheel” gets their way when dealing with airlines.

I applaud Carroll’s niceness and his creative response to his run-around, but being sweet may be one of the reasons I found patches of his story a bit yawn producing. His prose lacks an edge, as in this paragraph that sets up the section on filming the first video:

                “With no budget for lighting, we needed a free outside location, so as a volunteer firefighter in Waverley, I asked my chief if I could use the fire-hall parking lot for our outside shots. He said okay, so we picked a day in late May 2009 and hoped for good weather.”

The tale gets more interesting as his video goes viral. There certainly are multitudes across the globe who can sympathize with bad customer service, and since I’ve read this book I’ve read news stories of some cringe-worthy flight horror stories, one being how a passenger had to sit next to a recently deceased body during her flight to Africa.

I felt that Carroll used this book to tell his story, but also to drive more people to his website and announce his new career as a keynote speaker. As a “YouTube innovator” his main message to others is “to tell your story authentically, only as you can, and watch what happens next. To those people who feel unimportant, as though they have nothing special to offer, I say that your story does matter and that there is no one better qualified to share your perspective than you.”

Carroll claims that due to his videos, large corporations now rethink how they handle complaints. He tells many stories of how his video changed people’s lives. I’m happy that Carroll had a hugely successful experience and glad for all the people he touched, but I believe his story would’ve made a more fascinating chapter in a book on customer service in the internet age than a book in itself.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Hay House Publishing for this review. The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

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