Two issues in the news lately have shown me that CRM is more than technology and that companies are trying to walk the walk. The Toyota recall and the way at least some airlines have handled the snow nightmare in the mid-Atlantic states say a lot about how CRM ideas have penetrated business.
Now, with Toyota, I think you need to try to tease apart some cultural issues and I am not sure how you do it. But there is a distinct difference between the way Toyota’s CEO met with the press (and bowed to the assembled audience before he took questions) to discuss the first recall regarding gas pedals potentially sticking. I can’t imagine, nor have I ever seen, an American car company chief facing the music like that.
And Toyota’s recent ads are poignant. The company that has lived for decades by selling its quality story was prepared to follow that message down an unfamiliar and distasteful path. The ad I am thinking about says, and I am paraphrasing here, we didn’t live up to our own standards and we are working to regain your trust. If such recalls don’t become a regular part of life, the company will salvage much good will from that one. Maybe that’s why they decided to glom together the gas pedal recall and the Prius braking recall. One big snafu is better than two smaller ones bleeding out over time.
Some people blame Toyota for dragging its feet on the recalls but I know that collecting data from a few hundred customer complaints takes time and it takes more time to determine if there was something systemic. I am not absolving the company for this but I do understand that dealing with millions of units over time is not as simple as refunding a retail purchase. So Toyota gets high marks from me (I do not own any of the company’s products or stock) for their handling of this crisis and dealing with customers in a forthright way.
The next CRM manifestation comes from the airlines flying into Washington, DC this week. I can’t speak knowledgeably about all of them but I had a ticket on a JetBlue flight from Boston to DC on Monday of this snowy week. As a New Englander, my opinion of the Mid-Atlantic’s snow removal capability is somewhat jaded. Former DC mayor Marion Berry once said of the snow, “God put it here, let God take it away” and that has colored my perception ever since. More than two feet of snow dropped on the metro area over the weekend and I had zero expectation that the city would be functioning for days after that. So I was fine with cancelling my flight and eating the cost of the airfare if it came to that.
I called the vendor who sold me the ticket to cancel but they told me they couldn’t and turfed me to the airline, not a good sign I thought at the time. I went to the airline’s website and thought I was home free but at the last mouse click the site refused my refund (less fifty bucks just for grins) and I had to call the help desk. My hackles were raised at that point and visions of losing the fifty plus having the airline hang onto the balance, as a credit, did not sit well with me. Neither did the fact that the phone queue was estimated at over sixty minutes. I put the phone on speaker mode and did some work.
About an hour went by and then something magical happened. An agent got on the line, said she was sorry about the wait and began helping me. The airline, it turns out cancelled my flight, which wasn’t even supposed to leave until 4:00 PM. I was calling at about 10:00 AM so you can see how bad the situation was. The agent credited me the full amount of my ticket and that was that.
Now, having a friendly agent is good and having an hour-long queue is not though in an emergency it is understandable. But what makes this story interesting to me from the perspective of CRM is that the company made firm decisions to cancel the flight and refund the costs. They didn’t keep the possibility of a flight alive (on time is one of the world’s great lies), which would have drawn some intrepid souls to the airport and into a nightmare. It was a small thing but it showed an awareness of the customer and an interest in doing the right thing. No doubt it was motivated at least in part by the same forces that drove Toyota to say sorry.
At another time and in other circumstances I could easily see each of these companies playing hardball. But from these experiences I can also see that everything we’ve been saying about customers over the last decade has penetrated some corporate cultures beyond the software licenses. It’s like Robin Williams’ famous gig about golf in which he says the flag in the cup on the green is just there to give you hope. Well, there’s hope in CRM too.