You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
Consider your immediate impressions of some famous brands like Virgin, Ryanair, or BA. For Virgin, you might see the smiley, bearded face of owner Richard Branson beaming at you alongside Usain Bolt. For Ryanair, it could be the aggressive nature of CEO Michael O’Leary and, for BA, former CEO Willy Walsh. You might also see brand imagery: the brash red of Virgin, the blue and gold of Ryanair, and the red, white, and blue of BA. There’s also their logos, ads, sponsorship deals, etc.
Whatever visuals you conjure, they’re all components of the brand each company wants to promote. At great cost, these and other organisations seek to create in your mind’s eye an image you can easily recall, hopefully engendering a sense that you want to engage with them in some way at some time.
But what happens if you use one of these carriers and the service is appalling? Irrespective of the cause, perhaps you’re delayed, the food is inedible, the cabin crew are tetchy, the flight is overcrowded, and so forth. What’s the value of the branding?
Surprisingly, research shows it’s not the collapse in service that gives customers a poor opinion of an organisation—it’s the service recovery that matters.
People realise things go wrong. They know circumstances can conspire to thwart the best-laid plans. With so many potential causes of flight delays, for instance (bad weather, strikes, technical problems, and staffing), it’s more a wonder that planes ever get off the ground!
What customers really want when things go south is to be dealt with promptly, courteously, fairly, and humanely—that’s where the rubber hits the tarmac. If handled well, a complaint is actually an opportunity to increase customer satisfaction.
Here’s a stellar example: Last year, Orange Mobile replaced a broken mobile phone on New Year’s Day within 12 hours of request. Today, the malfunctioning phone is a distant memory, but the sight of that courier handing over a new one on New Year’s morning lives on forever in hundreds of minds.
Have a think about your experiences and rate the service recovery you’ve received. What went well and what didn’t? How has it affected your view of the brand? Then ponder your own company’s service issues and how they might be improved. As business coaches in Bristol and Bath, we, too, understand the importance of getting the service right—it’s too small a region to have a poor reputation.
Here’s the good news: it’s never too late to recover. No matter how much time has elapsed, a sincere apology along with a token of goodwill can restore if not enhance what otherwise seems an intractable problem. Dare to be different and make that call if needed.