HSBC’s website yesterday proclaimed that they were not only covering the volcano in terms of insurance, but that they would automatically refund all cash withdrawn overseas during the period of the volcanic crisis for all credit and debit card customers. Now that is one generous gesture. We in the branding world consider this a wise move. We have learned, through our work with customers across numerous sectors, that how brands respond to customer needs in a crisis goes a long way towards building brand loyalty and advocacy.
But have all brands taken this golden opportunity to show such benevolence and build customer brand advocacy? Once the ash has settled on the credit card bills of repatriated travelers, and the panicked air of call centers has calmed – who will be the winners and losers of the Eyjafjallajö-kerfuffel?
Unlike HSBC, many insurers such as Insure & Go and Virgin Money are strictly following their own guidelines – seeing the volcano as an Act of God – and not paying out. This is well within their promise to consumers, as it isn’t a listed insurable risk. Although not offering any goodwill extras, they are at least lawful. On the other hand some airlines seem to be pushing it. Under EU legislation, airlines need to provide food and accommodation to stranded passengers (note, ‘provide’, not ‘reimburse’, although this will surely be contested in the near future and is difficult to adhere to in a crisis such as this). Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary initially called this ‘nonsense’ and refused to comply – yet backtracked a day later under pressure, and will now be reimbursing reasonable costs to travelers after all. This U-turn makes Ryanair sound foolish and insincere, yet again.
Whilst some businesses try to tighten their belts to make up for lost revenue, other service providers flagrantly cash-in on misfortune. On this list we have Eurostar (for charging higher prices than normal and not allowing existing journeys to be refunded at cost), and car hire companies like Avis (charging up to £700 for a Kia for one day).
It will be interesting to see the effects of this upon the choices of holidaymakers on vacations to come. These brands may have virtually lost any good will they may have had with customers. Penalizing people during misfortune is one of the worst things you can do for your brand. Clearly in their greed to make many quick bucks, they have been short sighted and not considered the damage it could do to their brand, and trust customers may have put in them.
Impressively, some insurance companies such as M&S Money are paying out regardless of the small print. Julie Hopes, from Tesco Bank, says: “We recognise that these are exceptional circumstances and will pay all reasonably evidenced costs for those stranded abroad, even if these are above the current policy limits.” Both SAGA and More Than are covering customers under an ‘adverse weather conditions’ clause. Swiftcover has taken a more tempered approach and are offering up to £400 for stranded customers, but up to £3000 for a canceled or amended outbound trip.
Greenbee – part of the John Lewis Partnership – are not paying all incurred costs but are thinking of other ways to help their customers. By offering a ‘concierge’ support service and extending medical and baggage cover for stranded policy holders for free until they get home, they are certainly bolstering their brand as much as possible.
The financial sector too is stepping in to help too – a Barclays spokeswoman says: “Customers impacted with an overdraft can ask for a temporary increase to help with emergency costs.” Along with Lloyds TSB, Barclays will waive bank charges incurred as a result of disruption to travel. These gestures of generosity are bound to have a halo effect upon a wider brand offer.
Of all the airlines, Easyjet have been, unexpectedly, amongst the most helpful. Its website celebrates 100,000 hotel rooms provided, rescue flights, and proactively sending SMS messages to travellers. However a schoolboy error lets it down at the last hurdle – the refund form on the website is apparently all but inaccessible.
So what are the key leanings from this crisis?
- Be sensitive and understand emotional drivers. Take care of your customers when they’re at their most vulnerable and they’ll remember you forever. But offend them, not only will they remember it, they will tell everyone they know and can reach via twitter, blogs, facebook etc!
- Acknowledge customers’ negative experiences. recognise a situation and move towards solving (or in Greenbee’s case, easing) it, gaining trust along the way.
- Spot oblique opportunities. Whether Barclays upping stranded customers’ credit limits is shrewdness or kindness, we bet it’s appreciated when the chips are down (or need to be purchased).
- Let a crisis showcase your strengths. If you are Riverford Organic, and your supply of fresh fruit and veg isn’t under threat because you never air freight, then shout about it to your customers – they’ll thank you not only for reliability but the real proof of your green credentials.
- The devil’s in the detail. Seemingly innocuous touch points of customer service shouldn’t be abandoned amidst the chaos – in fact, they’re all the more pertinent. Pay attention to the simplest principles which reassure people, such as queuing systems and a senior representative reassuring people.
- If you’re doing something good, do it well. Don’t allow a system failure to undermine your efforts like Easyjet.
- Capitalise on Brand 3.0 and social media. During a real-time crisis, use your online presence for real-time solutions: Malaysian Airlines promptly responded to a plea on their facebook page and fast-tracked some customers onto a plane home. Fantastic!!
- Heroes earn halos. A gesture which is truly helpful will reflect on your business for time to come. Likewise, profiteering on the back of a crisis may reap rewards in the short term, but will leave a bitter taste and damage perception of your brand in the long run.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, 27 Apr 2010 at 1:32 pm and is filed under Branding, Loyalty, Word of mouth.
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