Why Entrepreneurs Love when Big Companies Don’t Care

ct-why-airlines-get-away-with-terrible-customer-service-20170418The world was shocked to see a viral video of a paying customer being dragged from a United Airlines flight. It was unthinkable to believe a big company could treat a customer that way.

You know who wasn’t surprised? Business travelers. Those of us who travel frequently have been dealing with delayed flights, shrinking seats, reduced rewards, increased fees, crowded airports, long lines and disinterested employees for a long time. There seems to be little effort or desire for excellent customer service in the airline industry. Even so, we keep flying.

I was thinking about this while I waited 30 minutes in a checkout line at Wal-Mart the other night. There were about 40 checkout stations but only four cashiers working. Our cashier was actually a manager. He was friendly but he didn’t seem to care that we waited longer to checkout than it took us to find the items we were buying. He didn’t care because he knew we would likely come back.

The truth is, big companies don’t care when they know they will get repeat business regardless of service. It’s also true that industries don’t care when they know all the competitors offer the same poor level of service.

While this is bad news for customers, it’s great news for entrepreneurs. Rob Biederman points this out in his article, Ugly is the New Beautiful: 4 Ways to Create an Innovative Company in an Antiquated Industry. He explains that industries with poor customer satisfaction and high repeat business are ripe for disruption. New businesses that can offer a viable alternative to the industry giants without the hassle have an opportunity to change the industry landscape.

“Simply put, if your [customer satisfaction] score is low but repeat purchase is high, your industry is probably ripe for disruption.”  ~Rob Biederman

Think about what Amazon is doing to the retail industry. As I stood waiting in the Wal-Mart checkout line, I realized everything in my cart could be purchased now (or soon) from Amazon without the hassle. So, why should I ever go back to Wal-Mart?

Entrepreneurs have an amazing opportunity to create value for frustrated customers. The question is, how can you identify these opportunities? How can you recognize an industry that’s ready to be disrupted?

In an article called, Shake It Up: How to Identify Industries That are Ready for Disruption, Anna Johansson suggests looking for these three tell-tale signs.

Industry Complacency. When the existing companies in an industry stop innovating, stop caring and begin to take their customers for granted, it’s an indicator that the industry has become complacent.

Customer Frustration. Chronic customer frustration with no end in sight is another indicator. As customers continue to be dissatisfied with the performance of existing companies in an industry, they will “voice their opinions, tighten their wallets, and look for alternatives.”

Tension Points. More subtle than major pain points, tension points are those areas of customer dissatisfaction that, once an alternative solution is presented, will cause customers to move away from existing companies.

When big companies don’t care, opportunities open for entrepreneurs. In fact, this was a leading reason I co-founded Peak Demand. After working nearly 20 years for big companies in the electrical transmission and distribution products industry, I realized the industry had all the signs for disruption. Customers were frustrated with the performance of the existing big companies in the industry but had no place else to turn. Utility and OEM customers were looking for alternatives. They wanted a hassle-free way to buy high-quality products that could be delivered in days not weeks. They wanted on-line ordering system that were easy and reliable. Our team is filling those needs.

There are many industries that are ripe for disruption. Smart entrepreneurs can create viable alternatives to the industry giants and have an opportunity to change the industry landscape. Complacency, frustration and tension are tell-tale signs that an opportunity exists. Entrepreneurs that can identify and exploit these opportunities will be the winners.

What do you think? Are there other signs an industry is ripe for disruption? Can incumbent companies disrupt their own industries? What causes big companies to stop caring? Let me know your thoughts.

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3 Lessons in Customer Service from a Captain Who Cared

17170061 - member of ground crew is showing ok sign to pilot

Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong. ~ Donald Porter

If you’re looking for great examples of customer service, don’t travel by air. Delayed flights, lost luggage, crowded airports, long lines and disinterested employees seem to be the norm across the country. There appears to be little effort or desire to take care of the flying customer. It makes traveling for business depressing, discouraging and disheartening.

So, when you see someone trying to do everything in their power to take care of you, it stands out.

My day started with an aborted take-off from a frozen runway on an uncharacteristically cold Monday morning. The 10-degree weather froze the plane’s systems and caused them to malfunction half-way down the tarmac. We all noticed something was wrong when the plane powered down from 120 to 0 MPH in what seemed to be several short seconds.

This is when we met our captain and learned 3 valuable lessons:

1.  If you screw up, let the customer know what happened. Once the plane was stopped and off the active runway, our captain let us know exactly what happened. He explained in detail why he had to abort the take-off and what he planned to do next. One of the keys to great customer service is communication. Things will go wrong but great customer service starts by being transparent and keeping the customer informed.

2. Take ownership and do everything you can to make things right.  As we returned to the gate, our captain informed us of what he was going to do to try and get us out as soon as possible. After we deplaned, he appeared to be personally working with the airline to get the plane fixed or get us another aircraft. Great customer service means not passing the buck or blaming others for the customer’s poor experience. It means taking ownership of the problem and personally working to fix it as soon as possible.

3. Apologize and be sincere. Our captain eventually got us another aircraft and had us boarding only a few hours after the aborted take-off. He continued to keep us informed and apologized for all the delays as we continued our journey. After we safely landed, he stood at the front of the plane and sincerely apologized to each of us personally. Customers can tell the difference between sincere and fake apologies. Great customer service begins with caring deeply for your customers and their experience. It should personally hurt when that experience is poor.

Customer service in the airline industry is generally poor but there are some people trying to make a difference. I’m glad I could witness someone who truly cared about their customer. Our captain demonstrated three simple rules of great customer service not because it was required, it was because he cared.

If a problem occurs in a customer experience, you have an opportunity to make it right. Great customer service begins with transparent communication. It continues with taking ownership and fixing the problem. It ends with a sincere apology.

How does your company measure up? Do your forward-facing employees care deeply for the customer? Do they communicate transparently? Are they empowered to fix the problem? Are they sincere? Have you experienced great customer service after a problem? How did that change your thoughts of the company?