What Retailers Can Learn From The Boeing 737 Crisis

With two crashes of Boeing 737 Max jets in just five months, it’s hard to believe Boeing resisted efforts to ground the jets.

According to information found on Harvard Business Review, Boeing CEO, Muilenburg, is said to have insisted to the president and others that the aircraft are safe. Moreover, the public was told about training designed to help pilots recognize and override the plane’s automatic controls if those controls erroneously guide its nose down.

Translation: The Boeing 737’s technical problem is the pilot’s fault but it can be corrected with pilot training.

Now contrast this to the response of Johnson & Johnson’s CEO During the Tylenol poisoning crisis in 1982. Then CEO, James E. Burke, famously remarked that the incident was a public health problem, recalling all bottles of Tylenol capsules—against the  FDA’s advice—designing tamper-resistant packaging, and promptly delivering the newly packaged capsules within six weeks.

When a second poisoning outbreak occurred four years later, Burke went on national TV declaring that Johnson & Johnson would only offer Tylenol in caplets—to eliminate them being pulled apart and resealed without consumers knowing about it.


Like Boeing, there may have been times when your business failed to meet customer expectations because suppliers did not deliver to you on time or perhaps your employees quit out of the blue. Maybe you had a sudden influx of business or a particularly big job that you weren’t expecting and couldn’t keep up with.

As Business Insider points out, “It is important to remember that you are the one who picked those suppliers. You hired and trained those workers. You accepted all of that extra work.”

“Explaining why you did not meet the expectations of your customers with excuses does not build trust and confidence with customers. While there may be reasons behind your failure to meet their expectations, customers generally do not want to hear about your problems. What they want is for you to do what you have said you would do, and do it when you said you would. If you can’t, they expect you to make it right.” ~ Business Insider

Look at it from the customer’s perspective. When you blame bad customer service on suppliers or employees, you’re essentially communicating to your customers that you are less than competent. “It is your business, so whatever goes on within it ultimately reflects on you,” says Business Insider. Telling a customer that the reason you could not deliver as promised also communicates that their business is less important to you.

So what should Boeing have said? Harvard Business Review frames a possible response this way:

“This is a technical problem that we do not fully understand. In light of that uncertainty, we recommend grounding the 737 Max 8s and 9s until we can be sure we know what is causing these crashes, and can satisfy ourselves and all of the global regulators that the plane is safe to fly again.”

What a difference! Such a response communicates a willingness to accept responsibility and prevent further human loss. It demonstrates that Boeing cares about the brand ‘s reputation and more importantly, its customers.

How do you respond to customers in a “crisis” situation? Do you scrabble for adequate excuses to deflect blame? Do you acknowledge the problem and take immediate action to fix it?


When you accept full responsibility with customers, you’ll build confidence in your business. Likewise, when you make each customer feel like their patronage is the most important, you build loyalty.

Having the confidence and loyalty of your customers is essential for the survival of your business, especially in light of the stiff competition retailers face today.

“When things go wrong with a customer, offer no “but’s” and no excuses,” advises Business Insider. “Be honest, take full responsibility, and tell what you intend to do to make it right.”

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Sherene Funk is the author of the contemporary romance Autumn in Your Arms and two small business e-books. She is a voracious reader who owns more books than she can ever read in this lifetime. A graduate of Brigham Young University, she worked in advertising for many years before moving to her current writing position at Rain Retail Software. She researches non-stop to see what successful retailers do and loves to share what she learns with small business owners.