One of the most moving and shocking scenes on television news this week was surely that of the relatives of passengers from missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370, being forcibly removed from a press conference, screaming and crying. As the mystery over the missing aircraft deepens and investigations run into their 13th day, the wait for information on the fate of their loved ones is taking a heavy toll on families desperate for news they can trust.

Inevitably, there have been contradictory, unclear and highly speculative scraps of information circulating as international governments, aviation and data experts pool resources in an attempt to uncover the truth about the missing plane and the 239 passengers and crew on board.

While the search for the truth about what happened to Flight 370 continues, difficult questions are being asked about how information concerning the incident has been collated, disseminated and shared. 

We know from all of our research that customers of any organisation hate having to wait for information and they also hate being passed around when they have an urgent need for their query to be resolved.  The information stakes are so much higher when dealing with such a grave crisis and the world is watching.

Intelligent and efficient management and sharing of information lies at the heart of a good customer service operation. It would be entirely wrong and insensitive to point a finger of blame concerning deficiencies on this front at any one organisation in the current fraught and rapidly-evolving situation. 

But the issues surrounding Flight 370 serve as a sobering reminder of how much (or perhaps in some cases, how little) customers trust organisations to gather data responsibly, particularly data on them - and to share it for their benefit.

Last week I touched on the ‘Internet of Things’ and how this could potentially transform customer service, using intelligent devices to harness data in a way that improves the service offering. The aviation sector is in some respects a pioneer in the ‘intelligent device’ field, having invented the black box flight recorder back in 1956. 

Harvard Business Review blogger W David Stephens, an ‘Internet of Things’ consultant, wrote an insightful piece this week examining how data from Flight 370’s engine could potentially have helped shed light on what has happened.  He addresses the concept of using engine performance data to influence leasing contracts as information on engine usage and maintenance could be used to determine price and bolster safety.  Click here to read more.

The concept of devices and items in our homes and workplaces connecting and talking to each other opens up a huge opportunity for using that data to benefit both the business and the customer - but only if the customer trusts the organisation to use that data appropriately.  Through research we did last year with the insurance industry we discussed a concept of ‘shared view’ where the customer fully understands the value of their data and how sharing more with an organisation can be to their benefit rather than just providing data for the company to use – and not always responsibly. 

It is this kind of shared data and shared benefit approach that will build trust between organisations and their customers and lead them to welcome personalised intuitive service offerings and to be willing to ‘trade’ or ‘surrender’ data (depending on their viewpoint) in order to access a better service.

For Flight 370 families, there is sadly no option of trading data, they are in the stressful situation of having to be passive recipients of whatever data is released by the authorities. As their wait continues, we hope and pray that the information they eventually receive brings at best a measure of hope, or at the very least, some resolution of the awful uncertainty and anxiety they are living through hour by hour.