While Businesses try to improve resilience, what about customers ?

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Summary : with constantly moving markets and fickle demanding customers, organizations should improve their resilience. But customer relationship is a dance that needs two partners to be danced : how is it possible to start a constructive relationship with, on the one side, businesses that try to improve their adaptability and, on the other side, customers incapable of being empathic. If it’s hard to imagine customer communities doing efforts in this way, businesses have the means, through more transparency, educational and information programs, to give customers elements that will help them to understand a context what will release the tension in crisis situation and make relationships between stakeholders easier and more productive.

Markets are moving fast and changing at a never seen before speed. In this context customers are moving as fast and are more fickle and demanding than ever before. This forces businesses to move from heavy, slow and scare adaptation logics to ongoing ones. What means, from an organizational standpoint, to focus on resilience instead of change.

We also saw that, even if they are very demanding toward businesses, social customers are not that empathic and resilient themselves. From a business view, the conclusion is obvious : of course they need to adapt better and faster but, to foster a win-win relationship to be capable of adapting to exceptional situations without blaming people who are not responsible instead of trying to understand the context.

But expecting customer communities trying to organize collective and individual resilience on their side, because since you need to be two to dance the customer relationship dance they have their part of the job to do, is certainly going too far.

But, on the other side, do businesses have a part of responsibility or, at least, a role to play in organization customer resilience ? It’s impossible to react in a constructive way to a situation one don’t understand, with no idea of the external factors that cause it and make it evolve. It it won’t solve all the problems, an upstream communication and explanation program may help customers to understand a situation and how things work, identify responsibilities and key factors so they won’t blame people who also suffer from the situation and try to do their best to help them. That should also help customers to play their role better since customer relationship and service is something that is rather co-constructed.

We can see the emergence of interesting things that prefigures attempts in this way. Last year, Paris Airports launched a page on their website to help passengers to have a systemic view of how the airport is working, making it easier to identify causalities. In the same way, since I complained a lot online about flight disruptions due to snow in december 2009 and 2010, they invited me with a couple of frequent flyers and journalist to see one of their snow exercise to understand the scale and the complexity of the system (for anyone jealous of such invitation, let me state than waking on Roissy’s runways at 3.00 in the morning in the middle of winter is the best way to go back home totally frozen and  catch a big cold). Recently I also had to the chance to have a private visit of Roissy Airport, seeing what passengers never see, and understand how complex such organizations are and how many constraints they have to deal with. As many things that help to stand back, anticipate and makes me more informed and knowledgeable so I will be less stressed or angry the next time I’ll face crisis situations when traveling. To stay in the travel industry, that’s also the same logic that makes many airline organize sessions for people who are afraid to fly, including flying in a simulator, to understand how things work, what is normal and why and, so, stop fearing things they now understand. Let me also add that visiting the flight operations center of Air France makes you much more humble and comprehensive about risk and crisis management the day you fly as an average passenger.

Of course, such events where exceptional and targeted a very specific audience that also shares the message around them. But the technology we have today should help to go further and help Mr and Mrs Anybody to have a deeper understanding of any business operation in some situations. Videos, blogs, serious games, mobile apps…it’s easy to do viral education today in order to have a better dialogue when the crisis comes. I mentioned Paris Airports but conversational platforms like the one recently started by bank Société Générale (Sg et Vous – SG and you) following that direction. By allowing anyone to ask questions on the “why” of banking operations the company is coming closer to customers and increases the trust necessary to positive dialogues. Anyway, anytime you wonder “why” you always find the answer on a forum or on yahoo! answers…so there’s nothing that prevents businesses to be more proactive in this field. With conversational platforms and educational approaches, there are many opportunities to improve things.
Of course, that won’t solve 100% of the communication issues. But if it can help to generate empathy, release the tension and generate a word to mouth effect (those who know can explain to their friends who don’t), it will be a big step forward.

Businesses have many things to improve and change. But to go further they also need to educate their customers.