Three Things We Can Learn from United This Week

I’m happy to welcome my friend Christa Cordova to the blog this week.  With her background in corporate communications, I love the way she draws from current events and shows us how to apply them to our Christian calling.  Welcome, Christa!

What can Christian business owners and ministry leaders learn about handling a customer crisis from the United incident?Unless you’ve been completely away from all news sources this week, you’ve likely seen the United Airlines fiasco sweeping the headlines. The incident involved several passengers getting bumped from a United plane so that airline employees could have their seats to get to another flight. One of the bumped passengers refused to give up his seat, and was forcibly removed. The passenger, a doctor, was injured during the ordeal and a picture of his bleeding face went viral, provoking calls for boycotts in major markets around the world. All of which is a big problem for United, as the company lost a billion dollars in value in the 24 hours after the story broke.

As business owners and ministry leaders, we’ll likely never have anything remotely similar happen in our organizations. Covering our businesses in prayer, leading from a Christ-centered perspective and doing our best to apply Biblical principles to our professional practices all help ensure that what this passenger experienced at United will never happen under our watchful professional stewardship. However, studies show that most business owners will face a crisis at some point or another, and when we see things happen like this in the news, it’s always helpful to take a minute to examine our own business practices, making helpful changes if necessary.

So what can Christian business owners and ministry leaders learn from United?

Acknowledge Customer Crises are Possible

It’s so easy to bury our heads in the sand and succumb to the “this can’t happen to my business!” line of thinking in regards to crisis planning! While it’s true that situations like this one at United really are rare, smaller customer crisis events can and do happen every day. The reality is that they can be every bit as devastating to our businesses as this one was to United.
Fortunately, the Bible tells us in Proverbs 14:8

 The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving. (NIV)

Take a minute to discern (think about) the possible customer crises that could severely harm your business. After listing your most important stakeholders or customers (anyone who provides revenue or important revenue connections), ask yourself tough questions:

  • Do you sell physical goods? What would a damaged product and following negative online review do to your sales?
  •  Do you provide services? What would happen to your business if an unhappy customer went straight to the Better Business Bureau or Yelp with their thoughts, before coming to you?
  • Do you have a staff attend trade shows or conferences, speaking on behalf of your ministry or organization? What would happen if your team has a bad day and mistreats someone?

 Brainstorm all the possible customer crises you can think of, cut down to the one or two most likely to occur for each customer or stakeholder group, then build on the others as you go along. The point of this exercise is to get you thinking of possible crises, not to create an additional crisis of overwhelm! If you find you can’t think through everything you come up with right now, pick out the highest priorities to tackle and put dates on your calendar to consider the rest in the coming weeks or months.

Plan Out Customer Experiences in Advance

When you’ve thought through some of your potential customer crisis moments, take another minute to think through how your customer might experience difficult moments with your business.

Might they be frustrated? Upset? Possibly injured in some way?

Put yourself in their shoes, think about how you would like to have difficult situations handled when you’re on the receiving end of negative customer experiences, and write down your thoughts. Remember that your business or ministry offers you a unique opportunity to show the love of Christ to your customer. Difficult situations cause emotions to rise, creating an extra opportunity for our Savior’s glory to shine through.

Develop “Golden Rule” Customer Policies

After prayer and consideration (and input from your leadership team, if you have one!), put your thoughts in writing and build what you come up with into your ongoing customer engagement policies and procedures.

Think about every possible way you or your business might inadvertently upset or hurt a customer, and then come up with every possible loving response. Doing so will ensure that you’re thoroughly prepared to love on your customer or key stakeholder in the event of a crisis.

As the saying goes “a penny of preparation is worth a pound of cure.” What can you do today, right now, to make sure you’re protecting your ministry or business from a possible customer crisis? 

Christa Cordova is a former corporate communicator and consultant turned current full-time seminarian, homeschooling mom and wellness advocate. Christa has a passion for strategic congregation engagement and healthy communities. She’s lived and worked in three countries and ten US states, currently calls Southern Washington State “home” and looks forward to finishing her master of divinity (M.Div.) degree with Fuller Theological Seminary in 2018.  

Linking up with Susan Mead at #DanceWithJesus and Arabah Joy at #GraceandTruth


2 thoughts on “Three Things We Can Learn from United This Week

  1. Excellent observations, Christa (Cordova). As one who travels fairly often by air, I was sure struck by how unbelievable it would be to be paying passenger caught in this situation. You are so right – service oriented organizations/vendors must have a plan for crisis situations. {Your neighbor at #GraceandTruth this week.}

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