Stop Making Ads…Create Great Experiences

While on a train from Bruge to London, I heard an announcement that reminded me of what excellent customer service and communications sounds like.

Our train was scheduled to arrive at 10:19PM. About twenty minutes after we started the journey (it was only about a 2 hour trip), the conductor came on and said the following:

“Ladies and Gentleman. I regret to inform you that there will be a slight delay in our travel time. Due to the fire in the Chunnel in September, repairs have been ongoing and are the cause of this delay. We will be arriving in London at 10:29PM. Please see one of our staff with any questions and sorry again.”

We were going to be delayed by 10 minutes. 10 measly minutes.

The conductor pre-managed us, explained the cause of the problem (and brief history), committed to a new arrival time and apologized – twice.

Contrast this experience with one that I had only a few days earlier:

I’d booked a ticket from Toronto to London with Air Canada – a direct flight. Upon arrival to the airport, I learned that my flight was on time but was now going to make an unscheduled stop in Montreal to pick up more people. It had been undersold and Air Canada didn’t want to go all that way without a full plane.

When asked why my direct flight was now not so direct, the attendant replied that it was policy and I had to deal with it. So I did.

We stopped in Montreal and waited two and a half hours to fill the plane, check new bags, de-ice the wings and get in the air again. Upon arrival in London, I calculated that I’d been sitting on the plane 11 hours straight (original time should have been about 7).

How did Air Canada manage the situation?

They didn’t. They asked me to deal with it. Forgive them. Lied about what time we would be arriving and generally did what most other companies do – instead of giving you the bad news, they just don’t tell you anything.

My perceptions of these two brands? I love Eurostar and passionately hate Air Canada. I’ll do everything I can to ride Eurostar again. It’s reliable, fair, on time and the staff treat you with respect. Air Canada? I’ll spread the word about my bad experience (and many others), encourage everyone I know to look for an alternative and ignore any brand positioning or new ads. Essentially, I’ll be the worst thing a brand could ever ask for – an angry, loud former customer.

Two experiences. One great for a brand, the other, horrible.

Ads can’t save horrible experiences. And they can’t create great ones. Either your product or service works and gives someone a memorable experience, or it doesn’t. Every interaction counts.

PJC mentioned that sometimes he wishes he could tell clients to take their 3 million in media and invest it in customer service. I agree. We can come up with the greatest ad ideas, best brand positioning, tightest strategy and coolest technical innovations ever. But if the experience sucks, so does your brand.

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