By Joseph Bona
Let’s say a burglar breaks into your hotel room and steals your laptop, iPad, car keys, briefcase, passport and more. What does it say about you if you can’t stop thinking about how the whole nightmarish event was such an epic fail on the branding front?
I guess it means I’ve been at this branding business for a long time. Let me explain. On a business trip to San Antonio a few weeks ago, I was staying at a seemingly nice, albeit lower-end, hotel bearing the name of one of the top three chains. When I returned from dinner one evening, I noticed my laptop was not on the desk where I had left it. My heart leaped out of my chest when I saw that my briefcase was gone, too. Had I put anything in the safe? Impossible; there was no safe in the room.
I went downstairs and told the staff. They called the police, who showed me how the door had been jimmied, and pointed out the lack of a standard-issue security plate . As a result, it had been easy for the burglar to compromise the lock by cramming something in between the door and doorjamb. Well, at least they probably filmed the guy on the interior hallway cameras, right? No cameras.
The staff phoned the manager. Would he be coming in to create a strong sense that the hotel was deeply concerned about this rare breach of security? Nope. How about a real-time call in which the manager said, “Mr. Guest, I am sorry this happened.” Didn’t happen. And would it surprise you to learn the hotel’s insurance company later tried to browbeat me into putting it all on my homeowner’s insurance?
When brands interact with people, they do so at a wide range of touch points, far beyond the brand name and physical appearance of the hotel.
When your guest can’t find her child at the swimming pool, has a medical emergency, or has her hotel room burglarized, these, too, are critical touch points.
It is a fatal flaw for a company to put time, effort and money into routine customer-facing brand impressions, while ignoring the customer experience during inevitable adverse events. At lower-end properties, consumers will not expect a Ritz-Carlton mint on the pillow. However, things like basic security precautions and an empowered and well-trained manager are the price of entry, especially if you plaster a well-respected brand name on the hotel.
Humans are emotional creatures, and a brand is intended to connect on an emotional level. If I had been able to talk with the manager on the phone right after the burglary, my primary expression of anguish would not have been about the loss of my belongings. Instead, I would have talked about how the burglar had made off with the gifts that my wife had given me 25 years ago. Silly as it might sound, some words of empathy and concern from the manager at that time would have made me feel more appreciated by the brand I was once loyal to. Later, when the manager called up and offered me 10,000 loyalty points, it was too little, too late.
I couldn’t have cared less about the monetary value involved here. For me, the problem was the seeming callousness on the part of the company in response to the break-in. From a branding perspective, this hotel fell down on the job at all of the post-event touch points. Instead of disregarding my concerns, the brand could have had guidelines in place in order to show compassion and sympathy. This would have demonstrated its seriousness about keeping my business and maintaining my brand loyalty. And by the way, think of what happens when you poorly handle such things in today’s social media environment, where your customers can update thousands of people on your brand’s shortcomings, live.
If your customers aren’t going to be surprised and impressed with how well you handle adversity, you need to think harder about the potential negative effects this could have on your brand over time. At the end of the day, companies must deliver and execute against all the promises — explicit and implicit — behind a brand.