01/04/2019 - 15:09

Corporate failures have human cost

01/04/2019 - 15:09


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OPINION: The airline industry is tightly controlled, social media not so, but both have highlighted the failures of poor after-sales service.

Corporate failures have human cost
Reportedly under criminal investigation in the US for its data sharing deals, critics are concerned by Facebook’s reluctance to effectively deal with graphic content. Photo: Stockphoto

Many company managers resent the idea of after-sales service because it’s their view that the customer assumes responsibility once a product is sold.

Australia’s banks held that position until the Hayne Royal Commission exposed their shoddy treatment of clients, all the way to charging fees for no service (even after a customer had died, in one instance).

Boeing took a similar attitude when it started selling the Max 8 derivative of its 737 jets – the model now grounded globally after crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia – providing scant post-sales pilot training, according to news reports.

Media behemoth Facebook appears to think it has no responsibility for how people use its internet platform or what they post, which last month included the live streaming of mass murder in New Zealand.

Those examples come from divergent industries but are connected by the lack of after-sales service and a belief that the future use of a product is totally the responsibility of the customer.

While that belief may remain in some sectors, as the food and car industries demonstrate there is a long trail of responsibility leading back to the manufacturer – contaminated food and unsafe cars are dangerous for customers and bad for business

Changes in attitude became law when governments intervened to force companies to take a greater responsibility for what they sold – for long after they sold it.

Australia’s banks are next in line for tougher rules governing the relationship with customers. Boeing and other aircraft makers will be next.

But the change that will be most welcomed by reasonable people is the fixing of a muzzle on Facebook and other forms for social media, which have poorly enforced guidelines that allow people to say and do as they please, no matter how offensive.

Enforcing what might be called good behaviour rules will not be easy, for three reasons.

• Social media is a US invention and the US is a country with lax libel laws and an entrenched position of individual freedom – which is not a bad thing until you grievously offend others or incite criminal behaviour.

• Social media is a global phenomenon that makes it hard for the government in one country to control what’s streamed in from another.

• Social media has become a commonly used form of communication, a way of saying the cat is out of the bag and it’s going to be hard to get it back in.

There is, however, a responsibility on the people selling a social media service, or earning income from the advertising it carries, to exert greater control on what is posted or streamed by its users.

If, for example, someone at Facebook had been better monitoring what was being streamed on its platform from New Zealand last week when a mass murder was under way, it might have been cut off earlier.

Breaking up social media, and big internet service providers such as Google, into more easily controlled parts could be a first step in reining-in the extreme aspects of a brilliant technology that has come from nowhere to dominate the daily lives of billions of people.

How a break-up could be achieved is a job for government, and most probably one for the US government or European Union, because they have the muscle to enforce their laws.

And anyone who thinks it can’t be done need only look at how the US broke up ‘big oil’ a century ago because it was too dominant in the marketplace, and then broke up ‘big telephone’ by forcing American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) to divide into a number of regional operators.

Being responsible for what you sell is not a new concept, but with business moving at an ever-faster pace it’s something that companies can forget, until jolted awake by government intervention or a disaster involving their product.

The Boeing situation, if it has been properly described, could prove to be as significant as Facebook live streaming mass murder.

One report claimed that Boeing did no more than provide a 56-minute video on how to fly the Max 8 because it was almost identical to other members of its 737 fleet.

It’s obvious now that the Max 8 is a long way from being identical and that after-sales service, such as ensuring pilots are properly trained, should have been a critical part of selling the aircraft, and probably will be in the future.




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