Let’s say you run an airline. Millions of people take flights on that airline and you are in one of the most competitive markets in the world. Here is a great way to mishandle your public image and damage your brand.

Allow baggage handlers to throw luggage, including checked-in guitars, around the tarmac. If one of your customers complains to your corporate offices about his broken guitar greet his problem with complete disregard and a general lack of caring for one solid year. Offer no compensation for his broken guitar despite his insistence that there was $1,200 worth of repair required.

Sound impossible? Well it actually happened in Chicago at O’Hare Airport with United Airlines! Check out Dave Carroll’s video on YouTube, “United breaks guitars” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo&NR=1 At today’s count there have been 5,139,238 views of this video. Or you could go to iTunes and purchase his second video, “United breaks guitars song 2.”

The story broke on the CBS Early News show and has spread throughout the country since. What can we learn from this nearly impossible to believe situation? I think that when a company gets too big to care about its customers it could signal the beginning of the end. Anyone familiar with United knows that they have been on a downward decline for years. They’ve lost market share, market profitability, and now they have lost market image.

Cue: Warning: An attitude of not caring about your customers will not serve your company well, regardless of its size. One of the most precious brand assets you own is your goodwill. And it belongs to those you serve.