Empty promises from US Airways

Exit sign in airplaneI didn’t expect to follow up on the previous post about brands destroying themselves through broken promises with another example of poor customer service so soon, but US Airways is too blatant to ignore.

You may be aware that US Airways is undergoing a merger with American Airlines and will be the surviving airline. It also will be the biggest. There has been much news reported about how this merger will benefit investors, the airline industry and US Airways employees. You don’t see or hear much about the impact on customers other than speculation about fares. And I can see why US Airways doesn’t advertise its customer service – because it stinks.

My brother experienced this first hand just a couple of weeks ago. He booked a flight that required a change of planes in Charlotte, N.C. His originating flight departed late because of weather and he landed about 10 minutes late. Incredibly, the plane sat at the arriving gate because – according to the pilot – there wasn’t an agent at the gate to direct departing passengers to connecting flights.

My brother said that people on the plane were yelling to the flight crew to let them off the plane. The pilot announced an apology and said he had called three times for a gate agent.  They all waited, standing in the aisle, for 12 minutes.

When passengers finally were allowed off the plane, my brother ran for his connecting flight. Great news – the plane was still at the gate! But no, the agent wouldn’t let him board because the doors had just closed. He asked her to find him a hotel. She told him no, his delay was caused by weather, which the airline has no control over and doesn’t compensate passengers for. He told her the delay was from waiting for 12 minutes to exit the plane and if it weren’t for that hold up by US Airways, he would have made it on the connecting flight before the doors closed.

The agent refused so he had to find and book his own hotel at a cost of $150 and was rebooked on a flight the following morning.

I started tweeting about how US Airways was trying to use bad weather on one leg of the trip to explain its poor gate service and get out of refunding my brother for a hotel bill he should never had to incur. This is not an unusual tactic used by airlines, which I pointed out in one of my tweets.

Suddenly, my brother heard again from a US Airways “customer service” representative, who this time admitted the airline was at fault, but said they still wouldn’t refund his hotel expense because the airline only reimburses when there has been a mechanical issue. Except this is not what the US Airline website says:

Non-diversion cancellations and missed connections

When a US Airways flight on which the customer is being transported is cancelled or causes a missed connection, due to reasons within the control of US Airways, creating an overnight stay for the customer, US Airways will provide one night’s lodging. US Airways will pay for:

  • Hotel room (US Airways will not cover: room service, alcohol, or movies, laundry or other hotel services)
  • Ground transportation (if not provided by the hotel)
  • Passengers without baggage will be reimbursed upon presentation of receipts for reasonable incidentals such as toiletries needed until they are reunited with their baggage

US Airways will not provide hotel accommodations when a flight is cancelled or causes a missed connection due to circumstances beyond our control, such as weather or Air Traffic Control decisions. Additional exceptions where US Airways will not provide hotel accommodations include:

  • When a customer’s trip is interrupted at a city which is his/her origin point, point of scheduled temporary stay or his/her permanent domicile.
  • When the destination designated on the customer’s ticket, and the flight on which the customer is being transported, is diverted to another city or airport in the same metropolitan area due to weather or other causes beyond US Airways’ control.

In cases where US Airways will not provide one night’s lodging, US Airways will provide passengers a list of hotels/motels, which offer a distressed rate when flight(s) are cancelled.

Whether or not this is legally binding is not the point. It constitutes a brand promise that US Airways has broken. I posted a link to this on one of my Twitter posts and, guess what – my brother got another call from US Airways. This time they offered to pay $75 of his $150 hotel bill.

Getting a full refund for a delay US Airways finally admitted was fully within its control and at fault should not require passengers to play Let’s Make A Deal for US Airways to honor its promise.

Assuming the merger goes through, passengers can expect this kind of “service” to continue. And we as the flying public are apt to see US Airways ad touting size and routes  – but not customer service.


Bad customer service destroys brand relationships

One of the best aspects of social media is that it has motivated companies to become customer focused. To attract and retain business, companies today had better be on their A-game as far as customer service goes or be exposed for it on online. Every contact between customer and employee is a reflection of the brand and vital to the brand image. Customers will only tolerate poor service for so long before abandoning the brand.Broken promise concept.

The eighth annual Accenture Global Consumer Survey found, not surprisingly, that broken promises are a top area of frustration for consumers. According to the survey, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of respondents indicate it’s extremely frustrating when a company delivers a different customer service experience from what it promised upfront. Seventy eight percent of consumers say they are likely to leave when they encounter such broken promises.

A woman’s clothing store has lost me as an online customer. This store has the worst service I’ve ever encountered. I ordered a gift card for my sister for Christmas one year and the store took three weeks later than the promised delivery date to get it to her. When I called to inquire about my order, the “customer service” representative could not have been more unconcerned if she tried. She offered no explanation, no apologies and, obviously, no service.

A year later, I placed an online order for two blouses and opted to have it shipped to the physical store to take advantage of free shipping. Email confirmation said the store would contact me when my order was in. Weeks went by without any further communication from the retailer. Three weeks later, I finally called about my order. I learned my order was at the store and had been since 5 days after the order was placed.  Contrary to the email confirmation I’d received, no one had called to let me know my order was in. The “customer service” representative I spoke with blamed it on store personnel and told me if I didn’t pick my order up within 3 days the store would ship it back.

That was the point at which I said good-bye to this retailer. Two consecutive screw ups is two too many. Especially when there are so many other options available. Clearly this store does not have its people, systems, functions, processes, leadership and front lines aligned. My advice is to cease all online ordering activity until you do. Otherwise, prepare for an exodus of customers.


Celebrity endorsers aren’t going away despite the Sheen-like risks

Actor Charlie Sheen public escapades makes this a good time to talk about the use of celebrities in advertising. Sheen was featured in Hanes commercials, which were dropped when negativity about him intensified. He follows a list of celebrity endorsers – Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, Kate Moss, Michael Phelps, Chris Brown, Brett Favre – who ended up being brand liabilities instead of champions. Don’t expect this to deter advertisers from using celebrities, though. Why? Because they draw attention to and help shape perceptions of the brand.

One local example is Reliant Energy’s use of NFL Hall of Famer Troy Aikman in TV spots. Aikman’s agent tries to rope him into endorsing a dental gun, while Aikman practically begs for a shot at representing Reliant Energy. See for yourself:

For the Reliant Energy brand to be tied to an athlete like Aikman, whose performance as quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys was nothing short of electric at times, is an excellent fit. Consumers likely will infer that Reliant, like Aikman, is competitive, reliable, credible…and delivers even under pressure.

Linking a celebrity endorser to a brand is not without risk, however. Besides undesirable behavior and/or sudden loss of popularity that can diminish the celebrity’s marketing value to the brand, there are any number of potential problems:

  • Celebrity endorsers can be overused by pitching so many products that there ends up being no specific product meaning, or consumers believe that celebrities only do it for the money and don’t believe in or even use the product.
  • The celebrity’s star power can overshadow the brand to the point where consumers can’t recall the advertised brand.
  • A mismatch of celebrity and brand is unbelievable or illogical to consumers.
  • Some consumers can feel that celebrities’ salaries to appear in advertisements add a significant and unnecessary cost to the brand.

What this all means is care must be taken by brands so that celebrity endorsers are evaluated, selected and used strategically, as well as closely monitored.

A recent survey by Starch Advertising Research indicates we can expect to continue to see celebrities featured in print ads because doing so produces a 9.4 percent lift in readership than ads without a celebrity endorser.

Do you think celebrity endorsements are worth the risk?


A true story about what can happen if you don’t monitor your brand

Some PR advice I give is to regularly monitor the Internet to see what’s being said about your company and key principals. Considering the speed with which information spreads online, brand reputations are built or harmed in real-time these days. So, I tell clients to set up a Google Alert and search social media networks to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s being said about them.

Fortunately, I follow my own advice. Thanks to a Google Alert I set up, I discovered someone was using my father’s name, without permission, as the name of their blog.

For many years, my dad, Gib Shanley, was the radio voice of the Cleveland Browns and a TV sportscaster. I set up a Google Alert a long time ago so that I’d get an e-mail notification whenever his name appears in online news or blogs. I was recently surprised by an alert I received about a “Gib Shanley Store” – since my father passed away in April 2008. I checked out the site and discovered it was a blog that featured reviews about Garmin watches and audio speakers, with the name “Gib Shanley Store” prominently displayed in nice big type.

After checking with family members, it became clear someone was using my dad’s name – perhaps to get high search rankings and traffic…although I can’t say for sure because whoever it was never responded to my inquiries.

I posted a comment to the blog letting the person behind it know he or she didn’t have permission to use the name and that doing so is illegal. I included this link and told them to remove the name immediately. Whoever it was (no identity was given on the blog) wisely complied, because I would have taken legal action.

Had I not been monitoring online mentions of my dad, I would have never known…and this could have been a site about something much worse than watches and speakers.

When it comes to brand reputation, what you don’t know can hurt you. Keep an eye on yours.


Is a Super Bowl or American Idol commercial worth the cost?

Photo by graur razvan ionut

You’d really have to be living under a rock to not be aware of the recent launch of the new American Idol season and the upcoming Super Bowl XLV– two of the most expensive advertising vehicles for marketers.

Whether or not advertising during the Super Bowl and American Idol is worth the high dollars that are being spent depends on the company, the product, its integration with other marketing communications and its memorability.

Both the Super Bowl and American Idol draw huge audiences and practically every demographic and psychographic group. They also have some differences, though. With American Idol, advertisers can repeat their pitches multiple times, since the show runs 2-3 times weekly. While this is not true with the Super Bowl, what the Super Bowl offers advertisers is scarcity (a one-time finale) that produces a huge amount of anticipation both for the game and the ads. People who aren’t even sports fans will watch so that they can be a part of the post-game/ads talk.

And yet, advertising during either of these shows does not guarantee success. Just ask any of the dot.com companies, like Pets.com, that went bust after their Super Bowl advertisements aired.

Studies show that the Super Bowl is a great launching pad for a new product or to create brand awareness. Examples cited include Apple’s introduction of the Mac in 1984, and more recent product launches by Chrysler, Gillette and Victoria’s Secret. And when a Super Bowl ad is combined with other marketing communication mediums, such as an online promotion, direct mail, social media and print ad campaign, it can extend its effectiveness for weeks, providing the advertiser is careful not to over-saturate the market to the point of irritating consumers and turning them off.

In my opinion, staying top-of-mind among consumers beyond the Super Bowl or an American Idol episode is the true test of whether the ad was worth the money it took to develop it and the associated media spend costs. This is supported by Lisa Haverty and Stephen Blessing who developed a metric, CogScore, that examines six cognitive principles in an attempt to predict the memorability of the brand from any given ad. CogScore is based on the belief that awareness, persuasion and likeability of an ad will have no effect if the brand being advertised is not remembered as belonging to that ad. In their study, they examined ad recall of Super Bowl ads a year after the game aired. Not only were many of the brands and products not remembered, several were wrongly matched with a competitor’s brand. These are companies that did not get their money’s worth out of their ads.

Business Insider offers a preview of this year’s commercials if you haven’t already seen them and can’t wait until Sunday.

Which commercials do you think will score high in memorability?