COVID-19: Beware brand slogans that ring hollow

30th Mar 2020

Some 50 years ago, during the financial crisis of the ’70s, my dad’s best friend ran out of money, jeopardizing the future of his company and staff. Over dinner, he explained the situation to his bank manager. In less than two hours, the bank manager had made a decision, way outside his mandate, saving the business and its employees. What no one could know at the time was that the company would become one of Europe’s largest pharma companies, with close to 50,000 staff. They still use the same bank.

Yesterday I called Qantas, the national airline of Australia, to rebook a flight, only to be told that they didn’t want to rebook or cancel any flights during these coronavirus times. The person on the phone told me “We’re busy” and hung up on me.

Qatar Airways, the national airline of Qatar in the Middle East, is charging you $50 upfront for every call you make to them. It doesn’t matter what your inquiry may be.

Then, of course, there are those airlines that have unplugged entirely. No answers, no response. They’re in a crisis, but so is the rest of the world. I guess there are different ways of handling it.

What strikes me is that most airlines, car rental companies, hotels, supermarkets, insurance companies — you name it — behave like they never plan to interact with customers again. It’s as if this is the end of the world. They may know something I don’t, but I hold another opinion.

You can make a difference - and build customer relationships

Recently, while conducting a workshop to design the ultimate customer journey, I asked the participants to remember the most amazing customer experience they’d ever had. They bombarded me with one story after another. One related the story of a family getting sick hours after they checked into a hotel — yet, thank God, one of the hotel staff went the extra mile and arranged for healthcare, food, and clean sheets around the clock. Then there was the lady who lost her passport in a nightclub, preventing her from leaving the country; she told a taxi driver the story; he listened carefully, found the club, retrieved the passport, and returned it to her.

In every one of these many stories, someone went the extra mile, often outside their area of authority, in order to help someone in need. What was most striking to me was that the participants’ recollections were remarkably detailed, even though most of these stories had happened more than a decade ago.

In times of need, you can really make a difference — and your customers will notice. In difficult times, you can cement a lifelong relationship.

Guess what? Right now there are a lot of people in need. Old people struggle to shop without having to leave their home and expose themselves to the virus. Waiters, bartenders, and airline crews have lost their jobs, with no new jobs in sight. Kids’ schools have closed, though mom and dad are still expected at the office. Nurses are working day and night. The list goes on and on, adding up to hundreds of millions of people affected by the crisis. All are in need.

Some companies have stepped up to the challenge. Notably, the Australian banks Wespac and NAB are allowing their customers to postpone mortgages and payments on business loans for 3+3 months. LinkedIn is offering free eLearning programs for people stuck at home, and LVMH has converted two of their cosmetics factories into hand-sanitizer plants. Sadly, these are the exceptions. Many companies have taken steps to care for their employees, but few have done anything for their customers.

Where are those companies who claim, “To Fly. To Serve” (BA), “We put a smile back on your face” (Holiday Inn Hotels), “Everyone deserves quality food” (Waitrose), “Taking Care of Business” (Office Depot), “Let’s Make Things Better” (Philips). And the list goes on….

One thing I’ve learned is this: In times of need, you can really make a difference — and your customers will notice. In difficult times, you can cement a lifelong relationship.

Well, guess what folks? That’s now.

Forget about CRM systems, complex bonus point programs, Big Data customer analysis. Right now you have the opportunity to make a lifelong impact on your customers — good or bad.

Sure, it’ll cost money, and it may require some guts. Yet the rule of thumb is that it costs 10 times more to acquire a new customer than to keep them. So, while everyone is struggling, you should care. How will you solidify a lifelong relationship?

Martin Lindstrom is the chairman and founder of The Lindstrom Company, a global branding & culture transformation firm operating across more than 30 countries. TIME magazine has named him in its ‘World’s 100 most influential people’ list. His clients include Standard Chartered, Maersk, Swiss Global Airlines, Dorchester Hotel Collection and Burger King. His new book, The Ministry of Common Sense: How to Eliminate Bureaucratic Red Tape, Bad Excuses, and Corporate BS (Hodder & Stoughton) will be launched in the autumn.


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