Firms Gone Wild (a.k.a. Dumb Moments In Business)

I just read through Fortune Magazine’s 101 Dumbest Moments In Business; it was a good read. Here’s how the article started:

Ah, what a dumb year it was! Fortune chose the absolutely dumbest of the dumb that the gods of fate and humor delivered into our laps – and yours – this past year.

After looking through Fortune’s 101 items, 8 of them stuck out to me. So here they are, with my commentary:

#8. KFC/Taco Bell: Ooh, gross! A video clip showing hordes of rats in a closed-for-the-night KFC/Taco Bell outlet in New York City gets nearly a million hits on YouTube.

#36. Best Buy: Let the Best Buyer beware. The state of Connecticut sues Best Buy for setting up in-store kiosks set to a website that looks identical to bestbuy.com but lists higher prices than those they would actually find online.

  • My take: Customers actively blend together online and office experiences, so companies won’t get away with hiding information from one channel or another. They need to make sure that customers have good experiences as they move from one channel to another. That’s why we’ve been researching Web-Store experiences.

#62. Nepal Airlines: In related news, Sony plans to acquire Nepal Airlines. After mechanical problems ground one of its Boeing 757s, officials of Nepal Airlines sacrifice two goats on the tarmac at Kathmandu airport to appease Akash Bhairab, the Hindu god of sky protection. The plane then successfully completes its scheduled flight to Hong Kong.

  • My take: The airlines did whatever it could to get its passengers in the air. That’s a good philosophy for its customers; not so good for the local goat community.

#66. Rhode Island Hospital: It’s not as if they’re doing brain surgery or anything. The state Department of Health fines Rhode Island Hospital $50,000 when, for the third time in less than a year, one of its doctors operates on the wrong side of a patient’s head.

  • My take: As a native Rhode Islander, I’m appalled. Surgical patients have enough to worry about without being scared that their surgeon won’t locate the right body part. It’s crazy that it happened 3 times. It wouldn’t take a lot of process re-engineering to keep it from happening a 4th time. Lesson learned: Good processes drive good customer experiences.

#70. Circuit City: Good job. You’re all fired. In a cost-cutting move, Circuit City lays off all sales associates paid 51 cents or more per hour above an “established pay range” – essentially firing 3,400 of its top performers in one fell swoop. Over the next eight months Circuit City’s share price drops by almost 70%.

  • My take: It’s hard to directly link those two event (the firings and the stock price decline), but the firing of employees just because of their pay level is clearly not a smart move. Front-line employees are the key to good customer experiences; so they need to feel connected and appreciated. Situations like this opens the door for a “Service Amplification” strategy, which is one of my five disruptive customer experience strategies.

#82. One Laptop Per Child: On the bright side, they’re learning a lot about anatomy. Nigerian schoolchildren receive $200 computers under the U.N. One Laptop Per Child program and quickly learn a few things nobody expected – such as how to find adult websites and how to store their favorite images on the computers’ hard drives. Program leaders say future laptops will be fitted with filters.

  • My take: I really, really, really like the one laptop per child effort. But it’s great to see that kids will be kids — no matter where you go in the world. So they need to tailor their efforts to that reality. That’s why one of the three tenets of Experience-Based Differentiation is “Focus on customer needs, not product features.”  Did I mention that I really like the one laptop per child effort?

#92. Jet Blue: Fly the nope-we’re-still-not-flying skies. Despite whiteout conditions at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport during a Valentine’s Day blizzard, Jet Blue loads passengers onto its planes, pulls the planes away from their gates … and leaves them there, stranding hundreds of passengers on the runways for as long as 11 hours. “You can look out the window and you can see, there’s the gate,” says passenger John Farrell, who spent nine hours on the J.F.K. tarmac. “If you just let us off the plane, we can walk there.”

  • My take: I like JetBlue (although not as much as I like One Laptop Per Child). It’s a good airline. But even good companies can have customer experience blunders. In these situations, what really matters is how the company responds. And Jet Blue moved quickly to establish JetBlue’s Customer Bill Of Rights. Nice recovery.

#93. British Airways Part 2: Fly the oh-gross-oh-gross-oh gross-get-it-away-from-me skies. On a British Airways flight from New Delhi to London, first-class passenger Paul Trinder wakes up from a nap to find the corpse of a woman who had died in the economy cabin being placed in the seat next to him. Upon complaining about the incident, Trinder – a gold-level frequent flier who logs 200,000 miles a year with the airline – says he is told he will not be compensated and should just “get over it.”

  • My take: Just bizarre! One of the three tenets of Experience-Based Differentiation is “Reinforce your brand with every interaction, not just communications.” Do you think this experience reinforces British Airways’ corporate brand positioning?

The bottom line: Good luck keeping your name off of this list next year! 

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

One Response to Firms Gone Wild (a.k.a. Dumb Moments In Business)

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