Friday, 21 May 2010

Which brands burnt in the volcano?

What an interesting couple of weeks for brands. I've spoken a few times on this blog about service recovery and its ability to galvanise consumers' views of a brand, good or bad. In the worst ever grounding of flights in Britain's history, directly affecting travellers and indirectly affecting those companies reliant on air freight to ship their products, companies had the opportunity to shine in consumers' eyes. Some indeed have, others are still covered in ash.

Those who found their demand for their service shoot up as a result took very different approaches.

The rental car organisations appeared to all let dynamic pricing take its course and charge limitless amounts to rent a car as supply decreased.

Eurostar, on the other hand, announced that it would only charge the £89 for a one-way trip from Paris to London. As tempting as maximising revenues may have been, I think this was the right move in the longer term. Consumers will not be travelling with a sour taste in their mouth over the extortionate fare and could alight with a positive "thank you for saving me" feeling after a horrendous journey.

Those who were caught directly in the chaos came out mixed.

British Airways came away a bit mixed. Customers reported some very good experiences, where passengers were continually briefed on a daily basis through fax and text and staff looked to do what they could to ease discomfort. However, Willie Walsh spent his entire time in the media trying to land the fact that the laws required changing and that it was unfair for airlines to pick up the tab for compensating passengers. Perhaps justified, but pick your moment Willie. Talk about what you're doing to help passengers, then come back after the chaos to discuss changes to the law. It didn't come across well.

First Choice/Thomson ran adverts afterwards to make the point that they had booked over 100,000 and arranged hundreds of flights to bring guests home. Sounds good.

Easyjet offered £10 off the next flight as a sorry for the disruption, pushing an acquisition message for the next time you fly with them. A bit naff. I had flights cancelled with them, and their website was helpfully always updated 24 hours a day, but when I had a query that could not be answered by FAQs, I looked to speak to someone. Customer Services numbers were hidden from the site. When I eventually found one, offices were shut outside "working hours". Not great.

Once planes were running again, the trains from airports ran 24 hours to get people home. A small thing, but you can imagine how inconvenient finally getting back home only to find the next train was at 5am tomorrow morning.

Lonely Planet had a great idea. For a couple of days only, the Lonely Planet City Guide apps were free to download onto your iPod/iPhone, helping out those stranded in cities in which they hadn't planned to be (I'd imagine the Madrid app did well). They could have increased their charge by 50p and remained within consumers' price sensitivity with short term gain but chose to help out and invest in loyalty.

My view on the matter: those who invested to re-coup the rewards later, through fixed prices or accommodating travellers out of their pocket, will reap the rewards in the long term.

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