Hurricane Irma made its second U.S. landfall on Marco Island, FL early Saturday afternoon. As one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, the impact of the category five storm has been extreme. Irma’s wrath damaged areas from Southwest Florida to South Carolina, created one of the largest mass evacuations in U.S. history, and caused power loss for close to nine million people. As my parents are full time residents of Marco Island, I have been able to experience first-hand the impact natural disasters such as this have on the customer experience world. In short, there are always two sides to every storm or two positions companies can take.
Provide exceptional service - empathize with customers, demonstrate a level of preparedness, and enable your employees to act.
Deprive customers of basic needs- institute price-gouging to reap higher profits, demonstrate a lack of preparation causing chaos, and have limited compassion for the situation.
Looking at the positive side of the storm below are three examples and quick tips to becoming a company that provides exceptional customer service during an unexpected natural disaster.
Stocking up on supplies to bring South was a necessity—hardware stores as north as Tennessee were depleted before the storm hit. Necessary items include everything from tarps to generators all of which does not come cheap.
In short, the Home Depot in Chicago heard our story and realized that the $1,000 plus bill was a punch to the gut given the uncertainty of if our home had a roof. The Home Depot gave us a $250 discount on a generator. The policies in place and autonomy granted to the store manager in bill adjustments significantly elevated the customer experience. The mere $250 cost to the company has created lifelong customers.
Making the trip back South was long and tiring. Rest stops were overflowing, hotels were sold out, and gas stations were out of fuel. After 19+ hours of driving, Marriott’s customer service agents helped my family find a safe a comfortable place to rest before having to return to the car for the final 10-hour stretch. While natural disasters are few and far between, having standard policies and procedures enabled Marriott’s agents to provide superior customer service.
A master “disaster hotel” list was up and running which allowed the agent to provide timely and accurate information on available rooms and most importantly information on hotels with power. Despite high call volumes and a limited supply of rooms, the organization created an environment where the agent confirmed a reservation in less than three minutes!
Arguably the worst part about hurricanes for Floridian homeowners is the post-storm unknown. There is a significant amount of time between evacuation, the storm hitting, and finally returning home to assess the damage. The smallest gesture and sense of support can help!
Companies that enable a high level of empathy with their customer and create transparency top the list in delivering exceptional customer service. One example I’ve seen throughout this process has been from USAA. Their CEO sent a message to all customers recognizing that many members were impacted. While the message was clearly a generic email, the act of acknowledgment provided peace of mind that USAA as a company would be there to assist financially in whatever way they could.
While category five hurricanes do not blow through often, it is important that companies consider how prepared they are to support their customers even in unforeseen circumstances. Delivering on customer experience during times like these is no easy task and requires significant forethought. For every company that provides a great customer experience during these times, there are many more that do not (and those aren’t worth mentioning as we’ve seen the news reports). But during this week, I have seen first-hand how companies including Marriott, The Home Depot, and USAA were all exceptional at delivering superior service when their customers needed it most. Thank you!