In two cases, the article points to the influence of individuals who have garnered a following in online communities and used that following to serve the customer's needs in new ways.
A quote from the NYT article:
In fact, blogs may be grabbing all the media headlines, but online communities like FlyerTalk are wielding a different kind of influence in the corporate world, providing instant feedback from those critics who marketers have called influencers. Just by logging on, companies can study, learn from and even respond to the cacophony of opinions about what they are doing wrong and what they are doing right without spending a dime on focus groups or market research.
I shouldn't be, but sometimes I'm in awe that companies aren't recognizing, en masse, that the world of communicating with customers is changing.
It makes me think back to the ClueTrain Manifesto, which I'll loosely paraphrase:
Companies need to understand that people are talking about them on the web every day and in a lot cases, laughing about their poor service or products. The question companies should ask themselves is: Do we ignore it? Or do we become a part of the conversation and work with customers to make things right?