Recession proof your Brand; Create an Experience!

August 21, 2009 by Shirleen Von Hoffmann Leave a reply »

Recently I was held up at the airport for eight hours by an airline mishap. Eight hours is a long time out of my life due to someone else’s error.  None of the Representatives of the Airline handled the situation correctly. They started with the problem and then why it occurred from their perspective. Never once did they say, I’m sorry or we understand this is messing up the rest of your trip and we apologize. They just kept telling me the reasons why it happened from their perspective, never giving me eye contact or having empathy to my situation.  IAIRPLANE thought, wait I am the customer and the one who is being inconvenienced here, I could care less about their problems, I paid full fare for my ticket and expect better service than this.  Because the representative handled the situation so poorly it upset me to no end, even when they offered my fare back. The money didn’t replace my valuable time and a simple apology and some respect from them would have made all the difference.  I swore to never use them again.

So here is what they said …We are overbooking our planes because of the recession and we are trying to stay profitable…We can’t get you on another plane for about eight hours.  (With no eye contact)    When I asked if they had a lounge they put people in that they have inconvenienced, they laughed and said, “I wish!”

What they should have said was…”We are so very sorry for this mishap, we know your time is valuable and it is a huge inconvenience for you, we apologize but we will do everything in our power to make it up to you. Our airline is trying a new policy to fill our flights and due to this new policy some of our clients got bumped.   We will refund your money and make sure you are on the next flight.  In the meantime, would you like to rest in our lounge and have lunch on us?”

Don’t make this mistake, it’s a big one. You will resolve customer anger so much quicker if you practice empathy first, then attempt to resolve the problem with respect and kindness and don’t forget to look them straight in the eye as if you are truly concerned about their welfare.

Now this airline takes their customer service very seriously.  I am positive that the Managers and stockholders would never want their Representatives handling customers in the manner I was taken care of.  It’s just these kinds of things that ruin good brands.

Five Recession Realizations

  • Customers are interested in what’s good for them. Customers don’t care or need to care about your company or your survival.  When they buy from you, they expect great service for the money they are paying.
  • In this recession, people are simply more careful as to how they are spending, so you must be providing the very best service and constantly be evaluating your employees and service levels.
  • Find opportunities to pleasantly surprise and go above and beyond to create a fabulous customer experience it IS the only thing that matters.
  • Constantly track your representatives and make sure they are highly trained in all scenarios especially to deliver bad news.  It IS possible to create a positive client experience even at times of delivering bad news.
  • Companies should always remember like everything in this world, they are expendable.  If you don’t give the customer what he or she is paying for, they will just move on to the next company who will.

A recession provides a unique opportunity to stand out from the pack. Customers want and need more, and will generously reward and depend on those brands that make them feel important and valued with additional spending and referrals.

Quality companies who pay attention will weather this recession as they have others in the past but some brands will not. Make sure your to-do list includes identifying, highly training and rewarding those employees who are best at engaging and servicing customers, then give them the autonomy to meet and exceed those demanding customer expectations.  Let their performance perfection be what represents and safeguards your brand for the future.

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22 Responses

  1. Len Kats says:


    You are right on with this assesment! At Wausau Homes we have been changing the way we do things for the past year and a half.

    We looked at our current business model and how we work through a network of builders and learned that something needed to change. That change came in way of disconnecting with some builders, requiring a higher level of commitment with the ones we kept and even selling businesses that kept us from our main focus. Essentially we are re-creating a 50 year old brand to be based upon Redefining the Customer Experience(R).

    We still have a little way to go yet before we formally connect with the consumers, but the responses from those who have worked with our builders has been encouraging. Our customer approval rating is at 93% (survey conducted by a third party) and our builders are increasing their market share in a tough economy. In some cases we have builders on track to build more homes this year than last.

    In short we are very excited about the future!

  2. Len,

    So glad to hear this. Let me know if you ever need help training your Sales People in how to provide better Customer Experiences. I have a few different things up my sleeve that can help.

    Appreciate the response.


  3. Steve Spaulding says:

    I find it very interesting that no one has commented on this. Not so much from an airline perspective but just sit and think for a moment about this situation.
    I am sure that almost every person in our industry has experienced some sort of situation like this and even the best customer centric people have on occassion passed the perverbial “buck”.

    It is so easy to not be accountable for situations even those that appear to be out of your control, but the best of the best customer centric managers own the opportunity placed in front of them and do not try and pass it along. The customer is looking to you for understanding, compasion and a thoughtful pro-active response to their issue and you can and should give it to them. It may require you to step back for a moment to reflect on their situation and how you might want to be treated. Good customer service is not about how fast you can answer someones question, but it is about empathy and understanding with a bit of reflection and common sense mixed in.

    Success factors are driven by your customer knowing how much you care and that caring being reinforced on a consistent, reoccurring basis.

    Embrace customer service with a positive attitude and you might be surprised the reaction you receive

  4. Steve,

    Well said and I couldn’t agree more!

    And isn’t up to Owners and Management to really key in to who is representing the brand, how well they are at representing the brand and to make sure they are all highly trained to do so.

    Thanks for the response.

  5. Sue Phillips says:

    Sue Phillips
    President at Scenterpirses Ltd


  6. Thanks Sue, so glad you agree!

  7. Janet Deleuse says:

    Thank you for taking your time to write about your experience and remind us of the simple basics for customer service.

    Janet Deleuse
    Deleuse Jewelers

  8. You are very welcome Janet.

  9. Andreas Rud says:

    Enjoyed the reading and the point of expectations. Now more than ever, managers need to make sure that they get the right stories and are present on “the floor” where the action happens. Live, breath and express the brand and its promises as this will deliver the right attitude and will gain trust and relationship with clients…now more than ever. Don’t hide in your offices, show the team you are there and participate in the creation and delivery (especially when you create new strategies such as overbooking!). Lead by example!

    Andreas Rud MBA
    Executive Assistant Manager at Sheraton Hanoi Hotel

  10. John Zito says:

    The sad thing is, that story doesn’t even surprise me. As aggravating as must have been for you, as it would have been for me, it’s almost expected. We almost anticipate poor service from the airlines. And as you say, if they would have started with empathy, that would have paid dividends as the experience progressed. Handled correctly (which should be standard practice), their chances of having you return to them would have greatly increased. You may have became a raving fan spread the word.

    I had a similar experience a few months ago where I have (had) my signage made. I was starting a new slogan campaign and apparently the shop owner didn’t agree with my message. I’m always open to constructive criticism, but not beratment. I have done business with his company for the past several years and have recommended his shop very highly. It’s easy to see where this is going…the Yellow Pages have 30+ shops to choose from. I’ve found another that fits my needs.

    But take that experience to a homebuyer times 10 or 10,000. If you aren’t responsive to their needs, there are many out there who are (or should be). A comment I hear often is that I return emails/phone calls promptly. How hard is that? As an industry, do we really want prompt responses to be a benchmark for remarkable experiences? Shouldn’t that just be a given?

    Our industry has taken a beating. Some of it deserved, some of it from old stereotypes. But we absolutely have to give our best and put ourselves in our customers shoes.

    John Zito
    Owner at Coastline Building

  11. Andrea,

    Gosh I love this response. I couldn’t agree more and I say this same thing all the time.

    But in the defense of Manager’s everywhere I can say that unfortunately so many are piled so high with paperwork and other duties other than leading, inspiring and caring for their people. It causes them to be behind desks performing the duties instead of what they were hired for. It takes special Managers to do what you are talking about and step away from the mundane paperwork and get in to the trenches.

    A big Amen to that!

  12. John,

    Thanks for the comment. It is sad when bad service is expected from any industry that you pay good money to hire. Thus the reason for this article. It’s just so very easy to do the unexpected to surprise and delight people and make them customers for life, there are great brands out there who do it all the time.

    In the case of homebuilding, it really starts at the Sales Office. How many people walk in and out of a sales office with no further contact from the representative after that. How many walk through the models unattended and walk out. It is very unfortunate because at that moment we have the opportunity to make those folks customers. When you consider how much a builder pays to walk one prospect in the door and those prospects just walk away most of the time, it’s just a shame.

    Thanks for your comments…


  13. Andreas Rud says:

    Thank you for your kind comments. I really enjoy this topic and the discussion as well as points raised by both of you.
    In the service industry where one advances through guest treatments, recognition and leadership traits that excell…I wonder at times what managers think got them to where they are. What duties prioriticed their days when they handled problems and also enjoyed great success stories and real winners with the client and teams while on the floor? The majority of paper work in my view, should be done by administrative personnel that are not willing or wanting to appear in front of guest. At the end…the reports are mostly outcomes of ones productive day and not an input in a customer experience. We love to serve! One more thing…How many reports have we written that we know will not be read or given appropriate attention?

  14. Steve Spaulding says:

    Absolutely…Owners need to own the opportunities first and lead by example. Challenging your team and empowering them to make the decisions, right or wrong. After they feel they are in control, pride and ownership of the problem become second nature.

  15. And as my article states, you must choose the right people to represent you, make sure they are highly trained and let them know they will be routinely held to their high levels of service through performance evaluations. The Representatives I am talking about welcome the opportunity to be evaluated so they can constantly be improving themselves. You want “hunters” who take pride in what they do and strive to perfect their talents not people who stand around and hand out brochures and answer questions.

  16. Andreas,

    I think many, not all but many Managers get sucked into the vortex towards higher aspirations and sometimes forget that being in the trenches, leading is what they are meant to do and what is most important.

    It’s the same as some luxury facilities get so caught up in the building and fluff they forget about client experience. It really doesn’t matter if it is a 6 star if the client didn’t feel important, valued and welcomed, now does it?

    It’s about paying attention to the basics and going out of your way to make people feel special.

    I love your passion Andreas…thanks for the words.

  17. Victor Stapelbert says:

    Victor Stapelberg
    Multifaceted Design Director

    Hi Shirleen thank you for your story. Although only minor to some things I and some of my friends have lived through in American Airports.

    Who can teach the USA and CANADIAN custom & border agents aldo to use practice empathy first?
    Since 9/11 they make it seem that no one has the right to speak up or have any pride in “not” being American although we obviously come and spend money in the country when we are standing at arrival.
    I am European and feel that arriving tourist or business people also need eye contact and a real welcome wish before treating us all as potential terrorists.

    Andreas comment is excellent and right. Managers should are not paid to ONLY delegate. In tough times it takes special peopele and just a few seconds of empathy true or white lie but it makes a difference

  18. Victor,

    I wouldn’t take it personal against foreigners coming in because they make us feel like terrorists as well…and we live here. I had to go through security twice in the same section this last trip. Each time they took different things out of my carry on. How are we supposed to know, if they don’t? LOL

    Anyway thanks for the comment.

  19. John E Burk says:

    Excellent example Shirleen from an industry that actually seems to take pride in poor customer service. I have had similar experiences with airlines. Twenty years ago I had a similar experience with an airline that was a regional carrier for one of the major airlines and have never flown that airline since. It has also cost the major airline as they have tried to book me on that carrier several times during this period and I have changed airlines rather than fly with the regional carrier. I have repeated the story naming the airline to many of my friends and that impacted their decision in reservations as well.

    Especially in today’s economy companies need to realize that providing “wow” customer service is as important or in some cases more important than cost. I have a long memory for poor customer service and getting the best deal will not persuade me to come back to the company that takes my business for granted or fails to provide the promised service. Over the years it has amazed me at the number of companies that ignore customer complaints and felt it was easier to find new customers rather than take care of their existing customers. I have for years told my employees that no matter what take care of our customers to the best of your abilities. If you do not know the answer to their question tell them so and promise to get someone who can help them, absolutely do not try to gloss over the situation or tell them something incorrect to pacify them.

    This has resulted in many long term relationships with customers for me. My company is finding that it pays off now that we have started a new firm as some of these customers are following us when they find out we have opened our on architectural firm.

  20. John,

    Thanks for the feedback. The advise you give your employees is wise and so simple isn’t it? Sometimes we want to make things to complicated in our world, but taking care of the a client and making them feel special is really quite easy.

    Good luck on your new company…


  21. John E Burk says:

    Thank you Shirleen. Over the years I have found that customer service is usually defined by the little things and requires more common sense than elaborate plans. Be honest with your customer, work to find a solution to the perceived issue, even something as simple as a smile and a thank you can make a difference. The key I have found is to empower everyone on your team to take the initiative to provide exceptional customer service. I have told my staff for years never worry about making a mistake do your best and take care of the customer. If your decision is wrong you will not be blamed as that is my fault and I will fix the issue. My staff does however receive all the congratulations when they do a good job as they are the one’s responsible. Over the years I have been blessed with good staff who were willing to learn and I gladly give them whatever they need to succeed and I have been rewarded by that many times over. You will also be surprised by the number of times you will learn something from an employee when they know you trust them and they are free to think outside the box especially when it comes to customer service. After all creativity is not limited to the design of our customers buildings and years spent in my field have been and continue to be extremely rewarding.

  22. tina Berger says:

    The dynamic has changed and every business must reach out to their customers and let them know they value their loyalty and business. The customer experience must be orchestrated to deliver and exceed the brand promise. I have been creating unique service touch points for spas and hotels and it works! Every business should have customer retention progams or they will lose out in the end. We will spend out money with those who value the relationship!

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