Crises create reputations that stick in customers’ minds. Your response in a crisis can either cement in your customer’s mind that reputation you’ve worked so hard to develop, or it can flush it all down the drain.
Whether or not you live in Buffalo, you surely heard that parts of the Buffalo area were hit with unprecedented snowfall last week, paralyzing parts of the city for four days. Last Saturday evening, just after the driving bans were lifted, I was checking in for my Southwest Airlines flight at the Buffalo airport and heard an interesting conversation at the counter next to me. The ticket agent was talking to a couple who were clearly inexperienced travelers. They had missed their flight and been forced to re-book (presumably because of the storm), and were nervous that doing so would result in a higher fare. The ticket agent told them that in fact their new flight did have a higher fare, but for that day Southwest was waiving all charges for higher fares on new reservations people were making due to flights missed during the storm.
The couple was visibly relieved and very vocal in their thanks to the ticket agent. As I witnessed this encounter, I said to myself “right answer.” Southwest got it right. I don’t know how much this couple will fly in the future, but I’m sure Southwest has a customer for life. More importantly, I’m sure this couple will tell several of their friends what happened that day. And beyond that, the person at the counter next to that couple (me!) happens to write a blog, and now all of you are hearing about it. A clear display of the power of one good decision.
One of my business colleagues has a favorite saying, “crisis creates opportunity.” This is never more true than when a business, or an individual, is faced with the “moment of truth” of how to respond in a crisis. Make the right call and you have a customer (or friend) for life. Make the wrong call and you may waste years of hard work. Make the right call in the moment!