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When United had to ‘face the music’: The cost of ignoring your customers

Manisha Malla
~ 5 min read | Published on Dec 16, 2023


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When United had to ‘face the music’: The cost of ignoring your customers

When musician David Carroll was flying United in 2008, little did he know that his short domestic flight would snowball into a nightmarish experience. He witnessed the airlines’ employees recklessly throwing his expensive guitars while unloading, resulting in a damage of USD 3,500. Carroll was furious and wanted an apology from United. What followed was a series of ignored calls and emails. United refused to budge. Appalled by the customer experience, Carroll turned to his music as the last resort. He wrote and recorded a song “United Breaks Guitars” that soon became a viral hit on YouTube.

United States viral video

The news was picked up by popular media channels. Carroll did around 200 interviews in the first few months and went on to write a book about it. The song soon evolved into a trilogy and garnered over 20M views over the last 11 years. As a result, United not only suffered from horrible PR but massive financial losses as well. The BBC reported that United’s stock price dropped by 10% within three to four weeks of the release of the video – a decrease in valuation of $180 million. All for a $3500 guitar!

It’s not just the airline industry!

Customer experience has been vital not just for the service industry, but for technology companies as well. When a tech giant like Dell didn’t listen to one of its customers, what it got in return was Dell Hell from journalist Jeff Jarvis. Eventually, the company had to give in, but not before a lot of damage had already been done.

Your customers don’t need to be musicians or journalists to make an impact on your company once they feel ignored. Statistics have shown that customers will silently and very quickly leave a loved brand at the slightest of bad experience. According to a report published by PWC, 32% of customers will leave a brand they love after a single bad experience. The number shoots up to over 45% when the bad experiences multiply.

User experience graph

Sounds worrying? We’re just getting started

What is even more concerning is that only a little over half of these disgruntled customers will even let you know about their dissatisfaction. You would not even get to know why exactly the “silent exits” happened. According to a report by WalkerInfo, more than 50% would however recount their bad experience to friends and family. This will not only increase churn rate & affect brand loyalty, it would also lead to a negative word of mouth, which will in-turn lead to decline in new customers.

optimise customer experience

Ignoring your customers will slowly but surely impact not only your bottom line, but another asset as well - your employees. Bad product experience will result in increased customer issues from the field. This disrupts the planned development lifecycle of your product. Not only does your future product roadmap and feature set get impacted, there is something else that gets almost irretrievably damaged - employee morale and internal company reputation. Not to miss, this eventually contributes to increasing the technical debt of your product. Something that the following comic strip talks about quite well.

Solving customer issues

Past studies have shown that seemingly small bugs have a big impact on a product's experience. The impact has proven to be very costly for several reputed brands in the past. The cost is not just about money, time and resources, but also in terms of reputation, customer loyalty, employee satisfaction and even customer retention - all these can perhaps not even be quantified. Based on a 2002 report by NIST, this graph visually describes the cost of fixing a bug at different phases of a software development life cycle.

Bug fix relative cost graph

This is not it!

Now that we’ve established that the cost of bad quality products is extremely high for your business, let’s also understand what can be done to reduce this cost.

Quite evidently, the solution to creating a healthy customer experience is to catch bugs early, proactively and smartly. If you can anticipate and react accordingly, you are in a position to fix issues before your customers even realise the presence of a bug.

There’s more. Lessons learnt from discovering bugs early on could also be used to strengthen & fool-proof your software development cycle. This helps in making your dev lifecycle robust and keeps your engineering teams stress-free. All of this enables you to  make the quality of your product better, your employees motivated and your customers happy.

So what did we learn?

Remarkable customer experience is of paramount importance for all organizations. The aftermath of disgruntled customers could permeate to all facets of your business. For a tech business, it would be prudent to spend time & effort in ensuring that their product quality is top-notch and customer experience is exceptional.

At Zipy, our endeavour is to help developers, QA testers and customer support anticipate and fix issues proactively and quickly much before the customers feel the brunt of lurking bugs. We strive to combine deep knowledge of the errors as well as customer behaviour to create a holistic picture of the issues and bugs in your product. This enables your developers to smartly fix errors before they become a pain point for your customers and an advantage to your competitors.

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