Excelling Customer Service: Understanding What Makes or Breaks a Brand During a Crisis


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Last year Carnival Cruise Lines experienced an unfortunate string of mishaps hurting their brand greatly. This year, Royal Caribbean recently was hit with an on-board virus leaving close to 700 passengers and crew members extremely sick and quarantined in their rooms. In an effort to quell dissonance, the cruise line excelled its customer service, offering partial refunds, discounts on future voyages, credits to spend on-board as well as additional perks. Was it enough?

We may never know how the industry as a whole is addressing these issues or what a contingency plan for crisis situations may look like, but frequent stories like this can provide insight to any type of business that is looking to excel when under pressure. Providing an exceptional customer experience can make all the difference for a company, brand, and its customers, even in a time of crisis. With that in mind, here are some strategies that could help turn a crisis into a positive situation.

  1. Address the issue with empathy
    We’ve all seen this before; a company does something wrong, and skirts around the issue. Whether you’re a big business or a small one, your public wants an explanation, acknowledgement of the toll your actions have had on your customers, and details on what actions you’re going to take to resolve the situation. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s all in how you correct it.

  2. Apologize
    Think about this in your personal life. Doesn’t a sincere apology go a long way? Does a sincere apology singlehandedly remedy a crisis situation in the business world? Of course not, but a sincere apology will humanize your company and spokesperson, while delivering confidence at a time when it’s needed most.

  3. Exceed expectations through full transparency
    Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What would you want done to rectify the situation? Whatever the answer is, do that action, plus one thing. One of the very best things you can do to extend your relationship with that customer is to fully disclose the root causes of the issues and the steps you are taking to arrest and address it. Customers want the companies they do business with to make things right. Even when it seems nothing will help, the effort will be appreciated.

  4. Keep promises and be honest
    This goes along with exceeding expectations. Whatever you’ve promised your customers, deliver it, and deliver it well. It’s as simple as that. It’s better to under promise and over deliver than the opposite. Don’t promise more than you can provide, and never lie through omission; it will be found out in the end.

  5. Take to the social channels
    It’s important to have a crisis communication plan in place before you begin to tweet and blog, but the most important thing to remember is silence can be your worst enemy. Don’t let your customers wonder what’s happening. That will only upset them further. Remember, your customers are living in a world of instant information. The more prepared you are, the better.

  6. Focus on the customers you do have
    So often companies focus on acquiring new sales and clients. When your reputation is on the line, ensure your current customers are the number one priority.

Despite the severity of any situation, there are lessons to be learned that can improve the customer experience during a time of crisis. Understanding where key areas can be improved will instill confidence in the company and employees while making a significant impact on customer loyalty.

Brad Smith
Brad is the executive vice president of customer experience, responsible for developing all aspects of the Sage customer experience - from product design to the invoice experience and all points in between. He has nearly 20 years of leadership in web consumer, enterprise software, and communication service provider industries. Brad is on the board of the Consortium for Service Innovation and loves talking about customer experience.


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