When It Matters Most: Customer Experience With the Fury of a Hurricane

Despite all of the great accomplishments achieved by women and men, we have yet to match the raw force of nature fully. I was reminded of this when I met Hurricane Irma this week shielded from her wrath only by stone, glass, and metal.

Blessed in a Storm

On balance I was lucky (as were the members of my team that are based in Florida), collectively we’ve encountered only repairable annoyances like water damage, power outages, and landscape/tree destruction. Had Irma held the track on which she had been projected 24 hours before landfall, members of my team and I likely would have taken the blow which tragically pummelled people just a few hours drive south of us in Naples and Marco Island.

While the best forecast models are yet to comprehend atmospheric factors which steer the direction of storms precisely. I am convinced that people can understand and change the impact of mother nature through an unrelenting spirit of human service.

Catching People at their Best

In the days before and after Irma, I’ve been privileged to experience individuals, business leaders, and government employees who have demonstrated immense compassion and care for those they serve. I’ve watched employees of my city government tirelessly filling and loading thousands of sandbags into the cars of residents.

My adult daughter, who was under a mandatory evacuation order, was anxiously looking for a carrier for one of her pets in the event that we would need to go to a community shelter. Since all pet stores had closed, my daughter reached out to a veterinary office near her (not one that cares for her pets currently). The receptionist waited for my daughter to arrive and charged her nothing for the temporary carrier before locking-up the office. Guess who won her future pet care business?

Companies like Verizon, waived data charges to assure people incurred no cost to stay in touch with loved ones. Incalculable numbers of store clerks, gasoline haulers, first responders, and volunteers provided countless hours of service and unforgettable moments of caring and selfless customer experience enhancement.

The Contrast

Obviously, there were other forces at play in human nature. Those elements included pernicious price gouging and interpersonal conflicts in stores or at gas stations – as people desperately sought critical resources in short supply.

What struck me most was the vast contrast between those who understood the needs of those they served and those that did not. For example, Publix, a recognized customer experience leader and large supermarket chain in the southeastern portion of the US, was consistent in their communication with customers. They demonstrated a thoughtful balance between the safety needs of their team members and consumers.

On the other hand, my property insurance company, who shall remain nameless, was clueless. After an hour long wait on hold (with no option to have a call back when my turn in cue arrived), I was met by processes and people that completely missed the mark. A lack of warmth, training, and genuine concern for my well-being will likely produce a friction-filled journey without an emotionally engaging outcome.

The Moral and the Challenge

So the moral of this week’s blog is simple. Nature is powerful, but human caring is a formidable counterforce!

The difference between “average” and “great” in customer experience delivery can be the difference between panic and calm for those you serve.

The competencies you develop in areas like customer listening, empathy, “other focus”, strategic technologies, and humanized processes (forged in periods of tranquility) will amplify their benefits and have a lasting impact when your service matters most!

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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