Where's the beef?

Where’s The Beef (Or The Responsibility For It)?

In my opinion, I’ve got one of the best jobs in the world. I’m privileged to travel the world sharing my insights on the value of delivering outstanding customer service and why every business needs to become an effective storyteller.

This past week United Airlines has been in the news twice for customer service failures. In one case, a female passenger who is also a Muslim, was refused an unopened can of Diet Coke because of the potential threat it could pose in her hands. Meanwhile a non-Muslim passenger beside her was given an unopened can of beer. A bigger issue occurred though, when a nearby passenger made threatening comments to the Muslim woman that went unaddressed. http://dailym.ai/1ET2e4Q

In another case, a pregnant mom and her toddler son were removed from a United airplane before takeoff because the son had been crying and was deemed a safety threat to others, even after he’d fallen asleep. http://bit.ly/1HIKETa

But United is not alone… Last week Sunwing Vacations dropped the ball and left a paraplegic mother with a damaged wheelchair resulting in a less than stellar vacation experience. http://bit.ly/1MekMTr

All three of these examples have one thing in common. In each case, there were employees who could have made a decision to improve an experience for their customers but instead chose a path that affected not only the individuals in question, but their fellow passengers, which resulted in damage to the brand of their employer. These employees helped write powerful brand-detracting stories that are being shared by millions and the companies are largely to blame.

It seems clear that airlines have trained their employees to understand the technicalities of certain policies or empowered them to use their judgment to turn around a plane and remove crying children and their moms. It also seems apparent that there are those employees who deliver the bare minimum in their job description. But is the beef really with the employees? I believe something important is absent in their training and it goes beyond that.

The concept of caring first, or what I call ‘Compassionate Design’ seems to be missing as a foundation to delivering great customer service. If a company culture was founded upon the notion of encouraging and empowering employees to always seek ways to enhance an experience for customers by seeing themselves in the customer, imagine what a difference that would make for all of us:

A Muslim woman would have a can of soda opened in her presence; problem solved. A mother with a toddler would be allowed to calm her child and continue on with her fellow passengers. A woman with a wheelchair would be seen as unique, requiring extra care. All of these things would just happen.

Compassionate Design cannot simply be preached however. It must be displayed in the everyday actions of senior leaders, since caring cannot be reserved for the end user or customer alone.

Caring is free and it’s contagious and should be unleashed throughout an organization, so that employee’s first choice to a challenging situation is compassion. Employees learn to do this by experiencing it themselves from the company. Companies need to create an environment where compassionate responses are rewarded and recognized and then lead the charge where caring is central to every policy internally and externally.

There is no strategy more cost effective than adding caring to your business model and nothing that will increase sales and profit more effectively in the long haul than compassion by design.

Until compassionate design is ‘the new normal’ in customer experience, companies like United Airlines can expect isolated cases of poor judgment by it’s employees to detract from it’s Brand. No business can satisfy everyone all of the time, but the companies that create a culture of caring, can safely empower their employees to make better choices. Those companies will get it right more often and at that point the stories we tell will change for the better.

3 replies
  1. Debbie Sprowl says:

    Hi Dave!
    Well written and very good points. The best places I’ve worked at had the right customer service attitude coming from the top down. When you see your store manager making deliveries in his own vehicle because of some conflict in the delivery process, you do feel empowered as an employee to do what is right for the customer. I saw our manager doing that, being out on the floor serving customers and helping his staff. He frequently reinforced his concept of doing everything possible to say “yes” to the customer. Management’s attitude definitely sets the tone for everyone’s customer service experience!

  2. Jim Carwardine says:

    Dave… It’s all about employee selection and is the fault of nearly all HR departments. Can they do the job, will they do the job, how will they do the job and do they fit our team, are the question that must be asked. The answers are not all on a resume or in an interview. Done the usual way, 6 out of 7 hires will be less than optimal. Done the way we handled Atlantic Superstores from 2005 to 2009 when we lost the contract to.o the “usual way”, we proved our system worked spectacularly well. Loblaws in Toronto wouldn’t listen to a tiny company in Nova Scotia when they centralized their operation…

  3. Warren Snaider says:

    Thank you for a clear, succinct discussion of one of the issues that affects all of us: corporate culture. We in government suffer from the same thing. My program was founded on “never say no” to customer issues. Now we allow employees to say “that’s not a government matter.” And I admit I’m part of the problem.

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