In 2008, Dave Carroll’s guitar was broken by United Airlines. Unbeknown to United at the time, Dave Carroll is a Canadian musician and a member of the band ‘Sons of Maxwell’. As a result of the lack of desire demonstrated by United to deal with the issue, Dave felt that his only option was to reach out to social media to share his experience with as many people as possible. Over 14 million views and 150 million impressions later, Dave certainly got his voice heard. A huge public relations embarrassment for United, their share price suffered significantly immediately after the song went viral.

Six years later, I regularly show the United Breaks Guitars video with people all over the world – if you have never seen it, you must watch it now by clicking here! Every time I share the video, it reminds me of the power the consumer  has at their disposal in the digital world we live in. Six years after Dave’s experience, we are arguably in an even more commanding position to get our voices heard by the masses, even if the companies we interact with directly appear not to be listening.

The threat of consumers taking ‘matters into their own hands’ has not appeared to change the way organisations behave. As customers continue to experience substandard experiences on a regular basis, many of them are still faced with uninterested, apathetic companies who make it remarkably difficult to get issues resolved. Some would argue that United were just plain unlucky to encounter someone like Dave Carroll – it is not every customer who will go to the lengths of writing a song about their poor experience. However, it is only a matter of time before a viral customer experience public relations disaster could hit any business…….. and that leads me very nicely on to a story that might just be the next one to do it…..


Meet Maggie and David Wheeler. Many Customer Experience professionals will know them well – Maggie and David are the very successful owners of an events company called The Focus Group. Their company produces the Customer Experience World Franchise – Customer Experience Conferences in the UK, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates. They know a bit about the world of Customer Experience! They are right in the middle of an horrific experience with British Gas – they are keen for their story to be heard and shared. Have a read….

In August 2012 we moved our home and business  to the Midlands.  We rented out our property in Oxford and took out a ‘Homecare’ insurance policy with British Gas to cover servicing of boiler, pipes etc. Since 2012, we have had the same tenants – they signed a three year contract.  When the tenants took the property over,  they chose Scottish and Southern to provide their gas and electricity.  In October 2013 they switched their electricity over to British Gas but were told they couldn’t move the gas supply as it wasn’t in their name!  It transpired that a bill of over £1,800 was outstanding to British Gas – but they had never been the gas supplier!!  After 50 calls between British Gas and Scottish Southern,  I received a panicked phone call from our tenant in March 2014 to say that British Gas had served a warrant to ‘rip out’ the gas meter!!

Apparently, letters had been going to the property for the attention of ‘The Occupier’ since September 2012 – so as many people will do, the letters were destroyed without being opened (we can only assume in hindsight that they were bills and letters of threat).  The tenants are still with British Gas and are paying back the money in monthly instalments. However, their Experian records have been black listed for the debt even though the account wasn’t in their name!  Please note the debt built up because they thought they had changed over to Scottish and Southern but found out later that they hadn’t!!!! Confused – we were!

The tenant had numerous conversations, trying to explain British Gas that they were NOT the gas supplier to the property but they wouldn’t listen. So the day  my tenant contacted me was they day discussions had reached the extent of pulling out the meter and taking court action for non payment!!  Even though British Gas were NOT the supplier of gas to the property, my tenant offered to pay £500 on account while they settled the issue – British Gas refused to take their money as the account wasn’t in their name!  It was only then that it was revealed that the account was in our name!  When this was brought to my attention, I was in disbelief that how could this happen! I had never opened an account foe the supply of gas with them! I contacted British Gas and explained that I had a Homecare plan …. It took a week of numerous calls before they finally came back to me. British Gas apologised – they were extremely sorry but it appeared that there had been confusion and the account must of been sent up because I had a home care plan and they ASSUMED they also provided the gas supply.  They assured me it had been corrected and that was the end of that.

However, unfortunately for us, the story goes from bad to worse! Three weeks ago as we were turned down on finance for a car – Dave and I were both really shocked, it wasn’t a great deal of money but none the less this really concerned us as we have no debt and have always paid our bills on time etc…  We immediately registered to obtain our credit file from Experian – I was absolutely shocked to find I had 11 plus counts of missed payments to British Gas!  I contacted Experian and they talked me through my report and explained how the scores work.  My records were showing the number of missed payments consecutively put my account into ‘Delinquent’!!  I explained the situation to them, and they asked for me to get in contact with British Gas to remove the missed payments.

I decided to take the issue straight to the Executive team (I was connected with Darren – he works for the board to placate customer complaints to try and mitigate out of court settlements and to avoid going to court).  I spoke to Darren and explained the situation and he went away to investigate, He came back with a letter for me to send onto Experian to eradicate the listings (which has now been done) and was going to investigate how this happened.

A week later I am still waiting for a full explanation as to how this all happened. How did British Gas open an account in our names, without our consent?  They had no bank details and there was no gas supply to the property. The emotional damage to us and our business is significant. The effect on our credit rating has hit everything we do – and the whole situation had NOTHING to do with us!!

I few years ago, I asked Dave Carroll to come and speak at Customer Experience World – we have become good friends. I feel as though the indifference being shown by British Gas towards the entirely avoidable issue and their inability to resolve it is similar to the indifference shown by United Airlines to Dave. I therefore reached out to Dave to see if he could help me.

This is quite a story – one that has thankfully never happened to me and hopefully never will. Due to a ‘mistake’ by British Gas, the lives and livelihood of two completely innocent people has been detrimentally affected by the actions. Mistakes can be forgiven – if they are rectified quickly – if United had just paid for Dave’s broken guitar, the song would never have been written. Dave responded to Maggie’s plea for help – this is the email he sent to British Gas:

Dear Darren

My name is Dave Carroll.  I’m the creator of the Youtube viral video called United Breaks Guitars that has over 14 million hits and well over 150 million impressions.  It was also the #1 music video in the world for the month of July 2009 and has been studied at universities the world over.

As a result I have become an active consumer advocate, author, keynote speaker, and advisor to large and small business on how to be a more effective storyteller in the digital age.
My friend Maggie Wheeler has shared her awful experience with British Gas and explained how her business and credit has been damaged through absolutely no fault of her own.  While she said nice things about you personally, as a customer her story represents a cautionary tale that citizens in the UK and perhaps an international audience would be shocked to hear.
Despite being asked daily to create content for others in need, I very rarely have, but you should know that Maggie has asked for my help to position her story truthfully and authentically in a way that might stand out using social media.  I have accepted her invitation and am now actively involved.
While I am Canadian, my grandmother was English and I hold a British passport. The thought of people without the means to defend themselves against practices like the ones Maggie has experienced motivates me greatly.  It could very well have been my grandmother or someone just like her.  I think millions of UK citizens will join this conversation soon

Powerful stuff from the man who knows the effect that social media can really have. As of the date of posting this blog (28th November 2014), British Gas have still not resolved the issue (despite being promised a response by Darren by the 24th November). The big question now is – will they become the next ‘United Breaks Guitars’?

I genuinely hope this does not happen. If you know a mistake has been made and a consumer has suffered as a result of the mistake – sort it out – and quickly. British Gas have offered a cursory amount of financial compensation, but this is not really about money. There is no excuse for indifference, inaction and a negative attitude. I’ll keep you posted as the story progresses.