We were supposed to be in New York City today. Our agency's directors were to fly in for a series of weekend meetings, but the winter storm predicted for the east coast cancelled our flights – which brings me to a story about customer service and how it affects brand image.
Val, our Director of Account Management, took it upon herself to secure a refund for our unusable tickets. When she called the airline, the automated attendant recording let her know that "due to heavy call volumes, you will be on hold for approximately 45 minutes." Understandable, she thought, given that hundreds of other people likely were calling at that same time.
But that 45-minute estimate wasn't even close. More than THREE HOURS later, a man with a very loose grip on the English language came on the line with the terse greeting "Confirmation number." Not a friendly "Hi, thank you for calling." Not a sympathetic "Hello, I appreciate your patience." Not a disarming "I'm so sorry for your wait. How can I help you?"
Val told several people in our office about the marathon hold time, as well as the ridiculous 41-second loop of distorted music she was forced to listen to literally more than 263 times, and the airline rep with the foot-thick accent who bristled when asked to repeat an unintelligible sentence a third time.
The airline wasn't the reason our flights were cancelled, but the airline deals with flight cancellations all the time. It's part of their everyday world. Yet, even with several days' notice that a huge storm was on the way, the airline was clearly unprepared to handle an influx of calls in a way that would leave their inconvenienced customers satisfied with the experience.
In business, the unexpected happens every now and then, but if you know your customers' interaction with your company will be disrupted on an almost predictable basis and you're still not ready to care for them properly, you're asking for a blizzard's worth of damage to your brand.