Over the past few years, we’ve come to learn that one person can go a long way in wrecking havoc on a brand. Dave Carroll was one of the first to prove this point brilliantly with his “United Breaks Guitars” YouTube trilogy. But what about the incidents that occur that senior management never hears about? What about the customers who have a negative experience with your brand but choose not to create a video or campaign that then goes viral – yet, in their silence, choose to never again interact or purchase from your organization? How do these experiences impact your organization’s reputation and, more importantly, how can you ensure to minimize their occurrences in the first place, especially when you may not even know of their existence?
Air Canada recently went through such an occurrence – and their senior management team has no idea
It was early morning on December 23rd and I was about to board my Air Canada flight back from an unforgettable trip in Europe with my husband, Colt. As we handed the Air Canada employee our boarding passes, the dream moment happened… she tore them up, gave us a dazzling smile and kindly said “great news, you’ve been upgraded to first class!”
I’ve been a loyal Air Canada flyer for over two years now, choosing to fly with the airline every chance I get – which due to my work is nearly a weekly occurrence – and this was my first time being upgraded. What a great way to end our wedding trip, sitting in first class, sipping champagne on this 8-hour long flight. We were thrilled!
About a half-hour into the flight, I wanted to do something nice for our two friends who were seated back in coach, so I got the flight attendant’s attention and asked her if it was possible for me to send a glass of champagne back to my friends. As she leaned over to answer my question, she accidentally knocked over my glass of champagne, spilling it all over my open computer and myself.
This was a marking moment. An accidental incident had occurred. It was certainly not a crisis, but it was an issue – especially to me, considering my computer was now soaked with champagne.
How the flight attendant chose to handle this incident was a defining moment for Air Canada.
Forgetting my request, I quickly began to wipe down my computer while the flight attendant left to get me a wet cloth. As wet clothes aren’t the best thing to be drying a computer with, I asked her for a dry cloth and her response was to send me to the washroom to dry myself and my laptop and, with that, she walked away. A little shocked by the lack of concern demonstrated on her end, I walked to the front of the plane and asked another flight attendant for a dry cloth, which I received promptly and then returned to my seat.
As Colt and I stood drying my computer, the flight attendant came back to answer my original question about sending champagne to the back. A little bit annoyed at this point, I turned to her and said “thanks, but that’s the farthest thing from my mind at this moment. I need to make sure that my computer is not damaged!” (A few years back Colt spilled coffee on his laptop and it fried the hard drive – which of course was all I could think and worry about at this point in time). I followed this statement up with a reflective piece of criticism. I turned to the flight attendant and I said “you know, I know it was an accident, but you didn’t even apologize.”
At that comment, the flight attendant pointed her finger in my face and told me that it was my fault because I shouldn’t be asking questions in the first place. She then proceeded to make a sly comment that I was simply upgraded (rather than having paid for my seat in first class) and that people in coach do not get drinks sent to them from the front. Later, when she came around with a refill offering of nuts, she turned to Colt and I and said “no peanuts for you!” (Yes, she actually said that!)
The consequences of your employees’ actions
Every single interaction your employees have with your customers is a direct reflection of your brand. I have flown first class on many international flights but this was the first time I had the opportunity to fly Air Canada, both overseas and in first class. After this incident happened, throughout the flight I found myself reflecting on my past experiences with other airlines and comparing their first class experience with the one I was in the process of experiencing. It made me wonder why I would choose to fly Air Canada overseas this year for business, when there are other airlines that have given me flawless service and care.
This one interaction had me contemplating my loyalty to this airline.
As Maya Angelou has famously said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Had the flight attendant apologized to me right from the start and showed a concern for the thing that mattered most to me in that moment, my computer, I would never have given the incident a second thought – especially since my computer was fine once dried. Instead of being a cause for reflection on whether or not I will choose to pay for first class tickets with this airline in the future, it would have been a little blimp in my flight that would have been quickly forgotten.
Now, I am certainly not trying to pick on Air Canada. The fact is that Air Canada is not alone in this type of situation. How confident are you that your employees are handling each and every issue with grace, compassion and in-line with your brand’s values?
Employees often don’t see the whole picture or the deep impact that one bad experience can have on the brand. Senior management may, but senior management isn’t always on the frontlines interacting with customers. So then how can you go about ensuring that you don’t find your organization in a negative situation – whether you’re lucky enough to hear about the incident or not?
Embed strong issues management into your corporate culture
Positive customer experience and instinctive issues management lie at the route of reputation management, crisis prevention and crisis management – and it is senior management’s responsibility to embed this way of thinking into the culture of the organization.
For example, the moment that the champagne glass toppled over was a defining moment. Your employees experience defining moments every day, whether they realize it or not. The key is to provide them with training that will help bring these moments to consciousness. To do this, you want to provide your employees with adequate issues management training that teaches them 1) the consequences of their actions, and 2) to instinctively identify these moments as opportunities the second they occur.
Because that’s what issues really are – they’re opportunities to connect with your stakeholders. They’re opportunities to take a negative situation and transform it into a positive and memorable experience for your customers. But doing this – and feeling confident that it’s being done, even when you’re not around – requires training. Unfortunately, the average employee will not know how to do this on their own, unless they’re trained to have this type of mindset. And this mindset should be a natural part of your corporate culture.
Issues management training will teach your employees to spot opportunities – as well as potential consequences – in every encounter. Turning lemons into lemonade, as the saying goes. This is what will make or break your organization’s reputation over the long-term.
If you haven’t put your employees through issues management training, I strongly recommend you consider doing so in 2016.
Author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World, Melissa Agnes is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. Agnes is a coveted keynote speaker, commentator, and advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks. Learn more about Melissa and her work here.