Keeping the Customer Cool When the Battery Gets Hot

It’s never good when the Federal Aviation Administration grounds an entire class of airplanes, and it’s even less good if you’re in the airplane business and you manufactured those jets.

That, of course, is the story with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which has been experiencing severe problems with its highly flammable batteries. Amid many pointed fingers, however, at least one big defender has emerged.

He is Henri Courpron, chief executive of International Lease Finance Corp., which has orders for 74 Dreamliners, more than any other customer. “Boeing has done a very good job of reaching out to us,” Courpron told The Wall Street Journal.  Not only does the relationship appear to be unharmed; Courpron still seems to admire Boeing’s product. “The 787 is a significant technological leap forward for Boeing,” he said. “When you try hard, it isn’t surprising you have glitches.”

Now, we don’t know for sure why Courpron is playing things so cool, but we suspect part of the reason is that Boeing, despite all the recent turbulence, has worked hard at learning what the customer wants and needs. That means it’s actively talking with those who buy its planes—note Courpron’s mention of the “good job of reaching out to us”—and not trying to read their minds.

Service is the best and the easiest way to build customer loyalty and satisfaction,” Peter Drucker wrote in The Practice of Management. “Service performance should never be appraised by management guesses or on the basis of occasional chats the ‘big boss’ has with important customers. It should be measured by regular, systematic and unbiased questioning of the customer.”

Drucker cited the sales force of one hospital supplier as a stellar example. “They spend a whole day with each customer,” he wrote. “They do not sell—refuse indeed to take an order. They discuss the customer’s problems and his needs, and ask for criticism of the company’s products and service.”

Image credit: Dave Pusey
Image credit: Dave Pusey

No doubt, ILFC would like to get 74 smooth-functioning Dreamliners. But in this case, an open line of communication appears to have provided great value to ILFC in and of itself.

“Producers and suppliers almost always misconceive what it is the customer actually buys,” Drucker explained in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “No customer ever perceives himself as buying what the producer or supplier delivers. Their expectations and values are always different.”

Do manufacturers of goods tend to underestimate the importance of service?