By Eric Michrowski
The COVID-19 Black Swan event has provided a unique opportunity for brands to demonstrate how they live their values, particularly as it relates to Customers. Some brands have stepped up and demonstrated their customer-centricity in challenging times. Others have tried to pursue profit over Customer loyalty.
If history repeats itself, these early actions will have a lasting impact on future profitability. There is no doubt that companies need to manage their finances in order to weather this storm. But those that do that while also taking care of their Customers are most likely to prosper in the future.
Let me share a few examples on both ends of the spectrum:
• For the most part airlines and hotels have had rapid customer-centric responses despite the incredible impact this crisis has on the sector with many of them likely on the brink of bankruptcy. Yet, some brands have been at the forefront with more customer-centric responses (i.e. Hyatt) whereas others have dragged their feet and mostly followed their competition (i.e. Marriott) or even tried to avoid allowing the cancelation of reservations across the board while being very slow to respond and later improving their policies ever so slightly based on an outpouring on customer complaints (i.e. Accor).
• Like most travel related industries, the car rental industry has been decimated as people have stopped traveling in large numbers. With surplus cars depreciating and sitting in lots, Hertz offered free month-long car rentals to Healthcare workers in New York, one of the most heavily impacted regions in the US. The cost of making this possible is next to none but it’s an incredible demonstration of values and customer-centricity. In contrast, a major hotel in New York is offering a discounted rate of $129 for first responders. While it’s a sizeable discount, it’s doing very little to provide shelter for those that need it at this time. Why not just offer the rooms for free or for a nominal fee of $10.
• When faced with temporarily distressed clients in long-term relationships, some firms with large margins decided to find a way to help while others stood by their contractual terms and offered to reduce expenses by an appalling 3% or less.
• When faced with early signs of an outbreak in the US, some conferences decided to reschedule at a large cost to them because they wanted to unquestionably do the right thing. Others dragged their feet until Governors forced them to cancel.
Recognizing that long term sustainability is an important consideration, it’s equally as important to ensure that you invest in key Customer relationships to build deeper loyalty when the recovery comes. The hotel industry has likely been the most proactive at this, particularly between Hyatt and Hilton. Small choices that put your customers first will make a significant difference in the long term. Customers will remember who was there for them and who was there for their pocketbook.
The following are six customer considerations in these critical times:
1. Reflect on your values. It’s more important than ever to be guided by your values in these in critical times. For us, we have a customer True North commitment to unquestionably do the right thing for our customers. That guided our decision to offer any COVID-19 support as pro-bono and dedicate all available capacity to build free resources.
2. Never put short-term profits ahead of long-term relationships. You might need to compromise on your bottom line and support some clients through even more difficult times. Remember the lifetime value of customers. Even if you lose in the near term, the lifetime customer value should guide decisions.
3. Do everything possible to hang on to your existing client relationships. Even if they become unprofitable. This will be an incredibly challenging time to get new customers. New opportunities are most likely to come from your existing clients.
4. Explore mutual win-wins (or even some win-lose where you lose but help your customers). Beyond price, there might be other ways in which you could help your customers win. Think outside the box in terms of what they might need. Or in some instances consider win-lose as most hotel chains did by allowing all non-refundable rates to be refunded without question.
5. Think about how you can give back through these challenging times. For us it was about giving free expertise. For Hertz, it was about giving transportation to healthcare workers to help them care for others. For others it’s been about producing masks, ventilators or other needed products for this crisis without trying to profit.
6. Don’t wait for your customers to ask or complain. Be proactive, reach out to see how they are doing through these challenging times.
Investing in your Customers now is the best way to ensure you recover well. At this stage it’s critically important to consider both how you manage through the crisis while setting yourself up for success on the other side. Customers are watching and will make decisions based on how companies showed up and what values were most important to them in times of crisis.
I have already identified a series of companies that I will never do business with again based on how they showed up over the last few weeks. I have also identified a series of companies that will receive a greater share of my wallet based on how they showed up