Last week, I had a behind-the-scenes tour of United’s Network Operation Center in Chicago. If you’re even remotely interested in how a global airline operates, or if you’ve ever wondered what’s really going on when the pilot says, “We’re just waiting on paperwork… another minute and we’ll be pushing back for an on-time departure,” then a tour like this is for you.
In the past three years, I’ve had many behind-the-scenes experiences, including a visit to a high-tech cotton gin in Wall, Texas; the Bangalore International Airport; Zappos’ offices in Nevada; and Dunlop’s tire operations at the Australian V8 Supercars event at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas. I’ve learned a lot about how the respective processes associated with these businesses actually contributed to what customers experienced. I learned enough, in fact, that it changed the way I viewed each of these businesses, as a customer.
Information via Social Can Set the Stage for a Better Customer Experience
How does this relate to social media and the management of the social customer experience? When customers understand your business and how it actually operates, they are likely to adopt a reasonable expectation when it comes to the delivery of an experience associated with your product or service.
Here’s an example: Dell’s social media team occasionally posts weather updates. Why? Because informing customers waiting on a new laptop that a storm in Memphis may delay helps reset expectations. For its part, FedEx has created a video that explains how the Memphis hub operates. Take a look at this video and how it provides insight into just how complex overnight delivery really is.
Then, look at this second video, showing the real-time rerouting of FedEx aircraft as a severe storm passes over Memphis, minimizing shipping delay:
As a result, Dell’s customers are prepared for the worst and are more likely to experience the best: the on-time delivery of their new Dell. When customers understand your business at this level, and when your savvy engagement team takes a tip from Dell’s uses detailed, relevant information to manage customer expectations the result is an improvement in the overall customer experience.
My tours of Bangalore airport and Zappos were equally informative: understanding how internal teams are formed at Zappos, at what motivates them toward excellence was all clearly on display. When you see teams of people working together purely to create a “wow” moment, you understand how Zappos has managed to operationalize customer happiness.
The same was true of my tour of the airport, where I learned about the ways in which gates are managed and repurposed. The gates in Bangalore’s main terminal are split into three sections, with one set dedicated for domestic, one set for international, and one set of “swing gates” that can be used for either. During the day, two sections operate together for domestic flights. In the evening, the gates are reconfigured so that international flight capacity is increased. The result is an airport that operates smoothly, delivering the experience of a much larger facility.
The tour of United NOC was amazing: literally everything that happens on every United flight is controlled from the network operations center. Seemingly unrelated decisions-planning flight routes for an aircraft to include scheduled maintenance at a particular facility ten days hence, overseeing the location on a specific flight of individual cargo containers as the plane in being loaded, crew schedules and the inevitable changes during flu season are all planned and then managed-in real time-from this central facility.
How Does This Knowledge Change the Customer Experience?
First, when your customers understand how your packages are shipped, or how your flights and airplanes are scheduled and managed, they are more likely to appreciate what you do and correctly prepare for an alternate course when signaled that a change to what had been expected may be imminent.
As a direct result of the information they have at hand, your customers stay calm.
When customers have the information they need to understand what is happening — and when they can choose that alternate course of action — those customers tend to be more patient. From a customer experience perspective it can make all the difference. From a business perspective, it means ROI for example via reduced support costs.
Back to social media and social customer experience: how is the above relevant, and how can you use behind-the-scenes tours to your advantage?
There are at least three ways:
1. Use onsite tours to show customers what really happens, so that they understand that people just like themselves are making decisions in the best way they can toward the end goal of customer happiness.
It’s harder to be upset when a packaged is delayed if you’ve met the people who are doing their best to get it to you. Do things always work out? Of course not. Generally speaking though, the businesses that you are loyal to, that you choose over and over, tend to do the majority of things right. (Which largely explains your loyalty!)
It stands to reasons then that helping customers understand key business processes translates into a bit of needed patience on a bad day, and a new level of appreciation when things are clicking right along.
2. Use tours to build advocates. When customers understand how your business really works, they are in a better position to post about the positive, and to act as advocates when the wheels are falling off the bus. A few customers helping to reassure another goes a long way when the negative comments start flowing on Twitter.
3. Use social media for reach and maximum impact. Look back at the FedEx videos. Use social channels like YouTube to extend and spread the impact of your “insiders’ tour” program further. Not all businesses can appropriately bring tour groups on-site and not all customers have the time or ability to attend an onsite event. Use digital channels to bring these experiences to your customers.
Ultimately, building advocates is in your business interest. Transparency — not only in conduct, but also in the processes that create customer experiences — is a great way to build those advocates.
Whether you arrange onsite tours, offer localized workshops or other hands-on, how-to events, or turn to the social web to publicize the inner workings of your business, consider adding activities to your 2014 social customer experience strategy. Teach your customers about how your business really runs because when they truly understand it, you win.