Business Process Management Unplugged

Let’s unplug the technology, return to basics, and talk about how business process should be used to get and keep more loyal customers.

Social Media can be your best friend… or your worst enemy

Over the past few years social media sites such as Facebook, MySpace, YoutTube, Twitter and even your good ol’ blog here on WordPress have taken off.  And, organizations of all shapes and sizes have embraced this new form of connection with their customers.  But, getting tuned in to the social scene is no replacement for making sure you consistently strive to make your customers’ successful outcomes happen.

In early 2008, a band, Sons of Maxwell, flew from Halifax to Nebraska.  At Chicago O’Hare, a passenger on the flight to Nebraska noticed that the ground crew were “throwing guitars out there” on the tarmac.  When the lead singer, David Carroll, retrieved his guitar at the end of his trip, he find it damaged and useless.  What ensued was nearly a year long battle with United Airlines to get the guitar replaced.  After numerous phone calls from Chicago to India, his problem, many times, falling through the cracks at United, never got resolved.  In fact, United denied him any restitution whatsoever.

But, what David Carroll did after that should have companies quivering in the tweets!!!  He composed a song called “United Breaks Guitars” and posted it on YouTube on 6-July-2009.  Since that posting, the video has gone viral with over 2.9 million views.  United Airlines was placed in the unenviable position of having to respond, directly, to Mr. Carroll with after-the-fact reparations.  But, after-the-fact is too late and the damage to the organization’s reputation has already been done.  This kind of genie is impossible to get back in the bottle and it makes an organizations PR person’s job a living nightmare.

The lesson learned?  Social media can be a great tool for connectivity to customers.  But, if you fail to live up to your customers’ expectations for successful outcomes, you could become victim to a complaint letter broadcast around the world.  And, this cost in real dollars will certainly be far more than it would have been if you simply made sure that your customer’s outcome was successful in the first place.

Post script, I am going to publish a new page called “Unsuccessful Customer Outcomes” where, on occasion, I will post the most humorous, creative and egregious e-complaints as a museum, of sorts, and a reminder to all of us of what can happen when customers, armed with the social media tools of the day, are left with no other alternative other than an open attack on the organization.  Don’t let this be you.

Here’s the video for a little entertainment.


  Jim Intriglia wrote @

Hi David, Ugh. The pro’s responsible (accountable?) for managing United’s public relations campaign should not be happy with the company’s response to the situation as well as the outcome.

I wonder if the business processes in place for managing customer complaints include notifiactions to the PR folks.

Have you seen anything that would serve as a positive example of how to best manage customer complaints, especially from great airlines like Southwest and Virgin?

  noviconden wrote @

Jim – great comments and questions. A few years ago, a Southwest plane overshot the runway at Chicago Midway. IMMEDIATELY, Southwest folks went into action. They made certain that each passenger and their families were comforted in the wake of the incident, which, to my knowledge, did not involve fatalities of Southwest passengers. It did affect people on the ground and to my recollection, they even extended their aid and comfort to those folks and their families as well. Southwest recently incurred another mishap with a plane in flight. I am not sure how they handled that situation but I’ll venture to say that it was with the same aplomb as they handled the Midway incident.

In every company, a little rain falls. But, the company can choose to prevent that rain from becoming a hurricane. And, they need to do that with very proactive approaches to handling these seemingly small customer service problems. But, most companies still prefer to deal with problems on a case-by-case basis and never really focus on getting to and resolving the core problems. In United’s zeal to save $3,500 I’ll bet that this “little problem” has cost them much more in direct costs, in potential revenue lost and, most importantly, in reputation.

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