It’s long been touted as one of the greatest innovation success stories ever: FedEx.
It’s had the tag line, “when it absolutely, positively has to be there.” It obviously has a track record and customer service record that is unparalleled.
What happens when FedEx fails? Absolutely, I don’t really know. They didn’t.
I was ready for them to fail. I had a keynote with a global metals company today; they had arranged to distribute a copy of my book Ready, Set, Done to all the members of their leadership. The books left the office here last Thursday in two boxes.
One box made it; the other did not. I was ready to write a furious post lambasting FedEx for failing to deliver them. FedEx? Failing to deliver!
And yet, something funny happened on the way to the post. A few calls from our office to FedEx main call center got us in touch with their ground operations at the location city; who quickly found the box in a local FedEx office. Turns out the conference hotel had asked yesterday that the box be picked up AFTER it had already been delivered. The receiving department at the hotel screwed up!
And FedEx did not hesitate for a moment to rush them back to the hotel within a 20 minute time span, as the conference was winding down.
In other words, what happens when FedEx fails? I don’t know — because they pulled a customer-service rabbit out of a hat on this one! Since I focus on innovation, what have I learned from this experience, that can apply to the overall issue of customer innovation?
- the customer can sometimes be wrong. BusinessWeek just ran an article about the new “empowered customer.” Sure, customers can take their issues online. But their first impressions might be the wrong impression. FedEx blew me away in this case. Maybe customers are too empowered today?
- staff empowerment is still critical. The local FedEx person our office was in touch with — “Cynthia” — was on the case immediately, and did not hesitate to concur that the box of books had to get there, and did what she had to do to make this happen. She was actually out of breath at one point, as she was rushing back to the phone after find the box. If she didn’t have the right to make such a decision, the customer relationship/service would have failed. Let staff decide, and give them the power to do what needs to be done to keep the customer happy.
- customer service still matters. Our office inquiries were smoothly transitioned from global operations to local staff in a matter of minutes. The execution of followup was almost flawless. In these recessionary times, companies might be tempted to manage costs by cutting customer service staff. That would be a critical mistake. Innovative organizations focus on growth, despite economic challenges. Growth continues to come from exceeding customer expectations.
What happens when FedEx fails? I don’t know — and I think there is a lot of inspiration that can still be found with this innovative organization.