A story of brand risk

In a world of social media, where anyone can publish to the world and any given story can take off and reach an audience of thousands, companies need to be particularly careful about how their actions might be seen.

It is through this lens of brand risk that I find myself looking at something that happened this week. And it left me flabbergasted that this occurrence happened because it’s the company’s policy.

Here’s the good news: we’re not picking on an automotive company. In fact, it’s not automotive at all. It’s an airline. For the sake of this article, let’s call them Flairline.

And why is this story worth sharing with you? Simply because it’s a powerful reminder of how ridiculous some policies, practices and simple habits can look when seen through a customer lens.

The story is simple enough (and in full disclosure, I recognize that this is a first world problem):

My significant other logs a lot of air miles for work, and always flies business class as a perk of the role. So she is, simply put, among the most important and most profitable customers Flairline has.

So imagine her surprise when she got downgraded to the back of the plane due to “an inoperative seat.” Imagine her further surprise when she learned that is a term that actually means a customer paying full fare has been bumped to give the seat to a Flairline employee!

I guess it would be unacceptable to Flairline employees to have to fly the way the vast majority of their customers fly.

This has social media risk written all over it. Seen from a customer perspective, it’s nuts. And yet, it is company policy. Further investigation with the staff at the airport revealed that they are in full agreement it’s a terrible policy, one that causes repeated grief as the decision on who to bump is made at head office. The gate staff are simply the messengers.

So again, why share this with you?

Simple. It’s a very memorable example, for me anyway. I will remember it every time I get on a plane and see an airline employee sitting in an “inoperable seat” and wonder who got bumped and sent the message that they really aren’t valued much at all. I’ll also wonder how many people they will share it with.

And I want it to be memorable for you too, as a reminder to always try and see the things we do through a customer lens.

The service advisor who tells a customer with a wave of their hand that their vehicle is ready and they can go find it somewhere out on the lot… The dealership employee who grabs a prime parking spot right beside the store, leaving customers to find a less desirable spot… etc.

There are lots of examples. Many of them are quite hard to see unless we really look.

The risk in these things is that they seem so minor, so simple, that they continue to happen without us always realizing how much brand risk they carry. They can whittle away at our equity with our customers. Sometimes they burn a bunch of that equity all at once.

They carry real risk. As such, we should always be looking for them. Remember that next time you buy a business class or premium economy ticket, and wonder if you’re going to be bumped to the back of the plane.

About Niel Hiscox

Niel Hiscox is the President of Universus Media Group Inc. and the Publisher of Canadian auto dealer magazine. Niel can be reached at 289 338-0166 and nhiscox@universusmedia.com.

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