Humanizing company responses is an area where PR communicators can come in handy.
Eight year-old Harry Winsor loves planes. His vivid imagination takes him to exotic destinations, and his plane sketches inspire him so much that he decided to send one to Boeing with a note suggesting that they build it. You can see little Harry's photo on the left.
Unfortunately Boeing wasn't amused.
They issued a letter from their legal department documenting the risks his unsolicited ideas posed to intellectualy property infringement, and highlighted that their engineers had already thought of everything.
After Harry's father received the letter from Boeing, he was not sure what to do with it: show it to his son and crush his creativity, or keep it from him and feign ignorance. So he did what any savvy father would do: put the matter up for discussion on his blog where he received a lot of feedback.
Having started to use Twitter only a couple of weeks earlier, Boeing's spokesperson Todd Blecher who manages the Boeing account, responded to little Harry's supporters by issuing this post:
"@arun4 we're expert at airplanes but novices in social media. We're learning as we go."
He later went on to say:
"We don’t have a more children-appropriate response for things like that... We get a lot of these, and anything from an adult — especially if it looks like an official proposal — has to get a form letter to protect us. Then, it’s frankly a matter of whether someone has the time to go the extra mile, even for a child."
This is a key corporate learning, especially for large bureacratic organizations, and one which we know to be true. The notion of discretion in providing responses is important. As PR professionals we often build relationships one person at a time. It requires forethought, empathy and consideration in light of company policies and procedures, rather than a mere application of the rules.
In the end, Blecher ended up calling little Harry to praise him for his submission, and the company is now working on developing a better way of handling submissions from children.
This is a great example of how social media can be used to keep companies more responsive in engaging the human side of relationship building... one kid at a time.
Food for Thought: What's an example of a good customer service move on the part of a big company that you've experienced?