Crisis Creates Opportunity

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!

2 replies on “Crisis Creates Opportunity”

  1. AND – Years ago the very first load of lumber I purchased on my own was from Baillie Lumber. (Cherry, minimum 90% Red One Face) When the load came in it had the 90% Red One Face but a higher percentage of sapwood on the reverse than I was comfortable with. I called our sales representative from Baillie and was given the response, “No problem, we will pick the load up”. When I pointed out that I may have never mentioned color specifications for the reverse side I was told, “Peter, you don’t have to be right. We just want you to be happy with the lumber you purchase from Baillie”. Baillie Lumber became the first company I called for my lumber needs!

  2. Jay baker says:

    Well put. I own a manufacturing operation. We deal with folks around the world, I have stressed over and over to my people who interact with our customer base , and with those we hope to include one day in our customer base , that crisis breeds opportunity. If someone calls us who is in a crisis situation and we can help, we will have a customer for life barring us making some stupid mistake in the future. Likewise, if we create a crisis for one of our existing customers, do not be surprised when they pull their business and go elsewhere. I fly SouthWest always, only time I do not is when they inconvenience me by not actually flying to where I am going. Best airline in history, best people, best culture, I have story after story, only airline I have stock in, which I purchased the day the market opened after 9/11. As an aside I met an employee of yours today, and I was remiss not to get his name. We are selling some timber which Ron Johnson of Forecon and I cruised in our woods. Your young man was just setting out this morning off of the road our house is on. I was just finishing up clearing the 2+ feet of heavy! water saturated snow in my driveway with my farm tractor! since it was more than I could plow with my truck. Your young employee was just headed into our woods. I stopped next to his truck and said ” Hell of a day to try and go for a walk in the woods!” He said “Yes indeed but guess I best get at it” as a guy who has employed hundreds of people in his career I thought ” This one is a keeper!” The damn snow was knee deep, with a quarter inch of ice on top, and your young man was going at it full blast. So kudos to your organization, if he is representative of the rest of your staff, you are the South West of your industry.

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