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Life-or-Death Customer Experience

By Augie Ray | June 03, 2019 | 0 Comments

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.

Customer centricity is not just about how your customer care representatives answer phones, the usability of your website, or the effort your customers exert at every touchpoint.  Customer centricity is also about your corporate culture, priorities, and goals, all of which determine when and how your employees know to put customers’ safety and interests before profit.

The more mature your organization becomes in its understanding and execution of  CX, the more it will appreciate the way corporate mission, reputation management, brand strategy, and customer centricity combine to suggest bold, proactive leadership decisions. For example, Salesforce recently altered its acceptable-use policy to bar its clients from selling a range of automatic and semiautomatic weapons using its e-commerce technology. Is this an audacious act of corporate principle that could cost Salesforce some client relationships? Will it impact the brand’s customer experience and the marketplace’s perception of the brand? Does it convey the company’s value and commitment to the health and safety of customers (and others)? The answer is yes to all of those questions.

It does not help a brand (or its customers) to improve call center scripts or lift digital engagement while ignoring adverse health and safety issues that may eventually harm people, reduce the brand’s reputation, repress trust and consideration, encourage more government oversight, raise legal and PR costs, and reduce customer loyalty. The customer centricity encouraged by leaders matters. When bosses are not in the room and your customers’ health, lives, and interests hang in the balance, how do your employees know to do the right thing?

Every day, customers put their faith on the line when they buy our products and services. They hope we deliver a product that performs as promised. They rely on us to provide great value. They count on us to support the product if something goes wrong. But even more than that, they also trust our brand will do no harm.

Your brand may not be conveying passengers at 35,000 feet or curing cancer, but that does not mean your employees don’t make life and death decisions. From a spill that isn’t mopped to a device battery that overheats to kitchen utensils that are improperly cleaned to the hours your long-haul drivers work to an alert that fails to work as expected in a plane cockpit, your customers’ safety depends on the customer centricity your leaders encourage.

Customer experience is not about the score you earn on a survey or the rating your product gets on Amazon. It’s about the feelings of trust, satisfaction, affinity, loyalty, and advocacy your brand earns in every interaction, big and small. Are your leaders modeling the desired behaviors, setting the proper priorities, and devising the right recognition and rewards to make customers interests a priority?

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