Customer Experience

Customer Loyalty and Natural Disasters

Customer Loyalty and Natural DisastersLiving in a Tropical climate zone has its risks. South Florida is positioned as a peninsular-shaped bowling pin, and each year between June and November, an average of 11.3 storms are launched from the area of the Cape Verde islands off the coast of West Africa. Over the past 40 years, an average of 2.3 of these storms form into major hurricanes and track their way like as a powerful bowling ball towards South Florida. Predicting the path of a hurricane is still an inexact science and, as we have seen this year, landfall can take place anywhere from Texas, to Florida, to the mid-Atlantic region of the United States.
Native Floridians and those “seasoned” through storm experience are a hearty lot. We are slow to evacuate our homes and quick to pitch in to help neighbors in need. For those who have lived through a big hurricane making landfall where you live, the environment in the days after is unforgettable. The air is no longer permeated by howling winds and thunder claps, but has been replaced by the sound of generators, chain saws and emergency vehicles.

My recent experience living through Hurricane Irma highlighted the powerful opportunity for brands to make good on their promises of customer care and great service. People living through a hurricane are emotionally vulnerable and the brand impressions made in the days following a storm are particularly impactful. Whether good or bad, the way you walk out your brand promise in the days following a natural disaster will leave an impression with consumers that may last months if not years.

Here are a few examples how of how customer loyalty and natural disasters made an impression on me during and following Irma:

Just before the storm hit, ATT made announcements that it would waive data overage charges for customers in the path of Irma. The promise made is caring and generous, but how ATT follows through will influence brand perception heavily. You see, few people have received their next invoice from ATT and rumors are circulating that ATT will charge for overages and amortize the amount as a credit over the next 3 months. Time will tell on how ATT fares on this promise, but if ATT had chosen to clarify how charges will be applied, it would be at less risk of brand damage.

Verizon handled the outage of its services much better. When we called about our Xfinity service at our office, we were greeted by a recorded message delivering a thorough and clear explanation of the situation. Verizon knew why people were going to call and did not waste people’s time waiting in a long call que. Clear communication and assessment of the outage was much appreciated and saved us time and worry.

The day after the storm, few stores or restaurants were open. The ones that were open suffered with long lines, so staffing was an issue. Local restaurant Offerdahls Off the Grill made an impression as its owner, former Miami Dolphin John Offerdahl, stepped up to serve customers for hours on end.

As it happenned, we were well prepared with a Honda Generator. This brand is easy to recommend as the generator we purchased 12 years ago following Hurricane Wilma was still starting on the first pull. Unfortunately, we experienced an electrical problem in our house that prevented us from using the generator as planned. We took the generator to local Honda service center, Riva Motorsport and were treated like family. We were invited to talk with the mechanic at the work bench and learned that “all the guys who wanted their jetski repaired would have to wait”. Riva put hurricane people first and we will remember that.

Adding to my personal hurricane story was that my wallet was stolen just before the storm. Card replacement was delayed as mail was suspended and it took over 2 weeks to replace my payment cards. I also needed to order a replacement wallet and turned to Waterfield Designs, a progressive retailer based in San Francisco. The same day I discovered that my wallet was back-ordered, I received a canned email from Waterfield’s owner asking me if I “needed anything”. I took a chance and responded with my story. To my surprise this was an email address not only monitored by Waterfield, but acted upon by its management. I received a replacement wallet within 2 days, while Waterfield absorbed most of the shipping costs.

If you notice, I’ve cited a combination of national and local brands. Some of these brands you recognize, others you don’t. The learning here is that all brands share common ground. There are undeniable moments of truth in the life of a brand. Natural disasters offer up these opportunities, and brands that remember what they promised on sunny days and deliver on dark ones are the ones that will shine brightest in the minds of consumers in the future.

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