Branded for Life

It’s 4:01 AM, and I can’t sleep. The reason I can’t sleep has nothing to do with insomnia. I can’t sleep because I’m sitting in an airport in the wee hours of a day that one of the nation’s largest airlines did me wrong, wrong, wrong. Wow, Delta Airlines. Somehow you guys have managed to take customer service incompetence to an art form, and tonight it really showed.

In all fairness, there were horrific storms tonight, and you don’t make the weather. I get that completely, but I have to judge you harshly nonetheless. That’s because this isn’t about the event, but your reaction to it. This is about customer service: the single most important brand touch point you own.

Somehow during the course of a single day, you’ve managed to make me feel as if I was dealing with a company that had suddenly become chintzy beyond reason and inept beyond measure. I don’t want to feel this way, because I’m actually a longtime Skymiles member. I also had an uncle and cousin who were Delta pilots back in the L-1011 glory days. And in those days, Delta was THE airline. Now, Delta is just AN airline.

Today, you managed to hook me for an unexpected 25 bucks when I had to check a bag, and you delayed my connecting flight FIVE times. You led me down a path of many promises, and then you dropped me unceremoniously into a mud puddle. My scheduled 8:30PM flight became a 10:55, then a 12:06, then a one AM, then a three AM flight. And we both know how the story ends. At three AM, you decided to finally tell 100 people that no plane was coming, that the flight crew’s eligible work time had expired, and that you were all out of hotel vouchers. Even if you hadn’t been, no hotels within a five-mile radius were available by that time. To add insult to injury, 250 people waiting in a line to try to re-book were told they needed to exit the cleared security area and go do all that at the main ticketing counter – because you were closing the gateside ticket counter for the night!

The net result is that I’m sitting here in an airport listening to late, late night CNN and watching the other unfortunate souls caught in this web try to get an hour of sleep. Since you won’t commit to seats or gates, we’re all just guessing at how to cope with an upcoming flight that we may or may not get to be aboard. Wow, Delta. I even recommended flying Delta to a new co-worker who had never experienced the South’s hometown airline. He says he’ll never choose Delta again, and that single nugget is why this miserable evening is relevant to this blog.

The dollars spent on brand marketing don’t make people love your brand. At its best, marketing simply sets the stage. It hints at what the experience might be like for a consumer. It invites people to taste the brand. But it doesn’t deliver the experience. The actual experience has exponentially more power to capture hearts and minds than any marketing message, and it represents more reach and frequency than any media plan. Today, there was an opportunity to win a new friend or create a naysayer. You shanked it badly. And you may never get another shot at a guy–incidentally another blogger–who can tell a lot of people about his own private perception of the brand. That’s the power of the new social sphere, and it’s something you’re going to have to overcome. Either that, or find a way to control the weather.

Comments

  1. Hal Thomas says:

    “The dollars spent on brand marketing don’t make people love your brand. At its best, marketing simply sets the stage. It hints at what the experience might be like for a consumer. It invites people to taste the brand. But it doesn’t deliver the experience. The actual experience has exponentially more power to capture hearts and minds than any marketing message, and it represents more reach and frequency than any media plan.”

    Well said! I just might quote you on that.

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