Monday, June 3, 2019

Life-or-Death Customer Experience

Photo by Leio McLaren (@leiomclaren) on Unsplash
The other day, I was talking to a peer about customer experience (CX), and she said, "It's not as if we're curing cancer here." We're not, but there are countless ways, both overt and imperceptible, that your brand's customer centricity and employees' commitment to customers can become matters of life or death. The decisions employees make, large and small, that impact the welfare of your customers are not theirs alone but are shaped by the priorities, goals, processes, and expectations set by your leaders.

What do your employees do when no one is looking? What decisions are made that can impact the safety of one or more customers? And how will customers be affected by and perceive those decisions? These are questions that will affect your brand's customer experience, its customer relationships, and the customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy your brand deserves.

Issues of CX, risk, customer welfare, brand perception, and corporate culture are complex, as exemplified by the recent news reports about the Boeing 737, its cockpit alert systems, and two fatal air disasters. Boeing has acknowledged that some within the company knew in 2017 that its display system failed to meet the company's own angle of attack (AOA) alert requirements. Boeing engineers decided not to take any action, even though the missing alert could have notified pilots that a sensor was malfunctioning. It is, in fact, this same sensor that investigators are exploring as one possible contributor of two fatal crashes that resulted in 346 deaths. Boeing's statement notes that a Safety Review Board was convened to consider whether the absence of the AOA Disagree alert presented a safety issue, and the board "confirmed Boeing’s prior conclusion that it did not."

Investigations are underway, and time will tell to what extent the AOA sensors, the missing alert, and the aircraft's anti-stall software did or did not contribute to these fatal accidents, but people reading the news won't wait for official inquiries to end before asking themselves what Boeing engineers put first--the company or the customer? Many will conclude that fixing a broken alert seems the obvious customer-centric decision for a brand responsible for the wellbeing of ourselves, family and peers while traveling six miles above the ground at 500 miles per hour. In fact, a recent survey found that 53% of Americans said they would not want to fly on a Boeing 737 Max, even after the FAA clears the plane for service. None of this is lost on Boeing's leaders, and last week the company CEO apologized to the families and acknowledged, "We clearly fell short.”

This all acts as a potent reminder that what matters is not what your brand intends but what is perceived. It also reinforces that leadership and culture influence day-to-day CX and customer centricity in ways that affect the safety of your customers and the reputation of your brand.

There are many examples where corporations' bias toward revenue, profitability, and cost avoidance conflict with protecting the health and safety of customers. We now know that tobacco companies not only conspired to cover up the risks of smoking but intentionally made cigarettes more addictive. Oil companies knew of their products' tie to global warming for decades, even as they funded groups that cast doubt on climate science. And in the 1970s, Ford once infamously decided to avoid safety improvements to the Pinto after calculating the $11-per-car cost was more expensive than dealing with the claims from 180 burn deaths and 180 serious burn injuries.

To continue reading the blog post, including an example of a bold Salesforce action that brings reputation management, corporate values, and customer experience together, please visit my Gartner blog. 

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