Let’s call it a silver lining on a dark cloud over 500 miles wide. Thanks to Hurricane Irma – who barreled through our State, covering it from coast to coast – our St. Petersburg staff had the unique perspective of being both consumers and marketers during a time of trouble. Using our loyalty lens, we saw the good, the bad and the ugly from brands and retailers big and small. From the curated examples below, we can almost predict with certainty which of them built lifelong customers and which traded long-standing loyalty for a fast buck.
Here’s our list of Hurricane Heroes and Flood Duds:
- Got-Rack.com – Hurricane Hero
Originally Irma was set to hit the East Coast of Florida directly, so excess supplies (plywood, gas, water, etc.) were shipped there. But, as these storms like to do, it took a surprise turn, looped under the peninsula and headed for the West Coast where supplies were even more limited. Some people and stores jumped on the opportunity for supply-and-demand price hikes while heroes like Got-Rack.com donated thousands of sheets to area residents – for FREE. Now, locals feel this company cares and was in it with them, and those that went there (or looked them up as in my case), know who they are and what they offer. Free publicity = free advertisement. And all it cost them was the plywood they already had on hand.
- Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines & DoubleTree by Hilton – Hurricane Heroes
Not only did RCCL join the other major cruise lines in sending ships to the devastated Caribbean islands to take residents to safer harbors, but they also chartered one of their ships and evacuated employees, their families and their pets (usually not allowed), deeper into the Atlantic and out of harm’s way. The DoubleTree by Hilton in Tallahassee also offered free rooms to employees during Irma – a similar and just as worthy heroic mention for the travel and hospitality industry. A great example of building loyal employees. Retaining your people is valuable in so many profitable ways – less investment for recruiting and onboarding, more dedicated and passionate staff, brand ambassadorship and advocacy, and more.
- Napleton Infiniti & Autoline LLC – Flood Duds
These dealers parked their entire fleets in garages opened as public car shelter. The jury’s still out on whether these are examples of unethical business decisions or if they truly had preexisting (and paid) arrangements with these parking garages as they claim – but as far as their social-savvy neighbors are concerned, they’re already guilty and customers are letting their feelings be known on Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram and review sites like Yelp. In a nutshell, think about how your actions may look during a crisis, even if your intentions are innocent.
- Howard Johnson & Bainbridge, Georgia Local Residents – Hurricane Heroes
If you haven’t been a part of a massive state-wide evacuation, you don’t know how harrowing it is to sit in a parking lot that used to be an interstate wondering if you’ll have enough gas as you drive past station after bone-dry station. I know, I was one of them. So imagine how nice it felt when Janice Dobbins-Moore passed through Bainbridge, GA and saw local residents and HoJo employees offering free food for their sudden influx of storm guests. Clearly she wanted to keep that feeling going – viral.
- Price-Gouging Sellers on Amazon – Flood Duds
Many companies use dynamic pricing to automatically increase the cost of products and services as demand rises. While this isn’t illegal, in times of crisis there should be a cap on basic necessities. This is the argument voiced by Amazon customers who noticed packs of water ranging from $25 all the way up to $99 (normally $5 – $8). Amazon, one of the kings of loyalty, is looking into the situation, monitoring and removing listings that “substantially exceed the recent average sales price,” and reimbursing affected customers. This makes Amazon a hero in our books. These sellers though? Not so much.
- AT&T, Comcast & other Telecomm Companies – Hurricane Heroes
While people frantically called their loved ones, ate up all their data posting real-time updates on their social feeds, and used Wi-Fi to stay connected to news outlets while power went out, you’d think the telecomm industry would look at this as an opportunity to reap the rewards of call plan overages. Think again. Most extended free Wi-Fi hot spots and credited accounts that went over their talk, text and data plans. Mine did – here’s a text I received. Guess who’s more loyal to AT&T now? This girl.
- Airlines – a Mix of Heroes & Duds
Customers took to social media en masse when the airlines, who also use dynamic pricing, allowed prices to soar into the thousands while frantic tourists tried to get home and locals looked to evacuate. JetBlue was the first to cap certain flights from Florida at $99, earning them the top Hurricane Hero spot in this category. Other carriers began as duds then worked their way to hero status by eventually following suit, halting their initial price hikes and establishing caps of their own. Delta was the airline that received the most negative attention, thanks to @LeighDow whose Twitter post went viral. But Leigh eventually retracted her statement when a Delta rep called and gave her the personalized and personally-caring service she (and we all) deserve.
(While on the topic of airlines, let’s give a Hurricane Harvey Hero shout-out to Southwest Airlines for flying an entire plane of orphaned dogs and cats to new homes. A great story in a ruff situation.)
Put Your Brand in a Good Category (Not One Numbered 1 through 5)
What did all these heroes get for their good deeds? Besides the warm fuzzy feeling of helping their fellow humans (and pets in some cases), they were covered by news outlets, shared hundreds if not thousands of times on social, gained countless media impressions (views), and built a priceless loyal following from current and future customers and employees.
Those duds? Their actions, whether intentional or not, left a sour taste in the mouths of many. They lost valuable loyal customers past, present and future. Shortsighted behaviors left long-term negative effects. Was it worth it? Probably not.
There are plenty more good and bad examples out there but the point of this blog isn’t to put companies on blast but to emphasize how easy it is to lose and gain customers – especially in a time of need. In these situations, it’s better business to come from a place of care and compassion over capitalism. The long-term loyalty and customer longevity you’ll inherit will vastly outweigh the short-term profits that are so tempting to take.
People love stories of good over greed, and they’ll amplify them. But they’ll also amplify negativity too – even more. So, stop, think and assess – what will my actions look like to my customers during times of trouble? Not sure? We can help. Whether your brand is looking for recommendations on loyalty outreach in times of trouble, crisis management or just want ideas on how to better connect with customers any time (no storms or earthquakes required), we specialize in making emotional connections during moments that matter. Contact us and one of our Customer Experience (CX) consultants will be happy to help. It’s what we do.
(P.S. In case you were curious, our offices and employees weathered the storm safely and we’re now assisting those who weren’t as fortunate with supplies, rebuilding, repairs and other local efforts.)