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.

Archive for process improvement

Creating Expectations Customers Didn’t Already Have – Maybe

Recently, I’ve discovered something that I had long thought about, myself – Hilton Hotels’ Homewood Suites chain has launched a product that allows customers to select the actual room they want when they stay.  For years, we’ve been able to select our own airline seats.  And, we can select our own seats for theater and sporting events.  And, now, our hotel rooms.

Perhaps deep in the recesses of our “traveler’s” minds, we’ve always wanted to be able to select our own rooms.  After all, not every experience with a hotel is consistent if each room we get is markedly different, and perhaps detrimentally so, than the previous room.  I know this from first hand experience since many times I will stay at the same hotel in the same city and get very different room experiences each time.

But, what Homewood Suites has done is reached out and identified a customer need that, if not overt in every traveler’s mind, certainly one that may make sense – just as advanced seat selection did with most airlines beginning in the late 70s and early 80s.

In the words of Steve Towers, this is Outside-In thinking.  Homewood Suites identified a need that customers may have started to articulate and pushed forward with it.  While it remains to be seen how much this need becomes a true expectation for travelers, if it does become one, Hilton has now created a standard for meeting it that other chains are going to have to follow or even exceed.

Which now goes back to my original opener – this was something that, along with other travelers I am sure, I thought was something hotel chains should have been providing for years but went along with the status quo because, well, no one was doing it.  What’s more, I am not a hotel expert – just a mere customer with a thought about a need that, now, someone in the hotel world identified and acted upon.  Now, having my own thoughts about being able to select your own room and layout does not prove that it does not take a subject matter expert in the hotel business to conceive of a need, it does suggest that being a subject matter expert in any business does not assure that you understand what your customers really need to be successful.  While it’s one thing to know your business it’s quite another to actually reach out to your customers and ask them “what can we do to make YOU more successful?”

Perhaps Homewood Suites just surmised what would make travelers more successful.  Maybe they didn’t actually sit down with customers to find out.  But, they certainly stepped outside of their usual world, put themselves in the shoes of their customers, and discovered a need, that may be the basis of a whole new expectation for all hoteliers in the future.

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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.