BP and the Future of Customer Loyalty

The full effect of the Gulf oil disaster likely won’t be known for a long time. Already, industries such as fishing and tourism are taking the hit, and it appears to be only the beginning. Scientists and engineers are worried that Gulf currents might carry the oil around Florida and along the east coast. Pretty scary stuff.

The finger pointing is well under way, and it sounds like there’s plenty of blame to go around, but I think it’s clear that the BP brand has a long road to recovery.

While BP as an organization might deserve the consequences of the situation, I can’t help but feel compassion for the independent operators of BP gas stations. BP sold off their U.S. gas stations to independents a long time ago, and the main business relationship these operators have with BP is buying their gasoline and flying the logo. But the stigma of the disaster is naturally transferred to any entity associated with BP. Threats of boycotts are popping up everywhere.

Most of all, I feel compassion for the hourly employees working in BP gas stations. I can only imagine the comments, snide remarks, and jokes being directed at them. Though these station employees had nothing to do with causing the leak and, in fact, don’t even work for the company that caused the leak, they are an instantly available target for criticism. An already tough job has become infinitely tougher over the last few weeks.

The first priority of BP is, of course, to stop the leak and get the mess cleaned up. At the same time I hope someone in the organization is focusing on the gas station operators, updating them on the situation, providing current information, and helping them deal with station-level backlash. As a station employee I’d want the company’s help in how to respond to customer questions and comments. Few things are more frustrating than being left in the dark and having to say, “I only know what I read in the newspaper.”

I don't think it's unreasonable for BP’s independent operators to expect daily updates at every location so that managers can share information with their employees. As an employee, it’s the difference between feeling set up for success and feeling set up for failure. If an employee feels set up for failure he or she leaves the company, physically or emotionally. One way or the other, they leave.

Moving beyond the BP situation, I believe the lesson is this – communicating with the people who communicate with your customers, especially in times of crisis, is absolutely critical, not only for customer loyalty but also for employee loyalty.

Ask yourself, what if a BP-like situation happened in our company? (God forbid). How could we get accurate information to EVERY employee instantly? Waiting until it happens before figuring out the answers is too late.