Growing up in South Florida, I’ve seen the devastation a strong hurricane can cause. First, Hurricane Andrew tore through Miami in 1992, then Wilma in 2005 and most recently Irma showed us her wrath. These disasters can be daunting and can make you think you’re in the twilight zone – sitting in darkness shuttered in for days, no power or internet, the fear of not being able to provide for your family, news of roads turned into rivers and homes flooded, impassable roadways due to downed trees and debris, and even heavy objects, like a semi-truck ending up on top of someone’s home (while hard to believe, I witnessed this last one after Hurricane Andrew).
Yet, I’ve seen some real goodness emerge in these difficult moments – neighbors helping neighbors, emergency personnel working through the storm to keep us safe, volunteers traveling from other states to help with the recovery, companies stepping up to provide food and water for displaced residents and our complete “cold turkey” separation from this technology-dependent world. This life-altering change to our everyday lives before and after this last storm made me wonder how I could use the lessons learned, not just in my personal life, but to also help my clients build stronger relations with their customers.
As a marketer, I try to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and techniques so that I can offer those companies I work with actionable insights that ultimately give them a competitive advantage. However, I find that the lessons learned while surviving a hurricane can’t necessarily be taught in a classroom, nor do they relate to trends and technology. These lessons underline for me what drive us to be better people and deepen our connections, as well as makes me ponder what converts an occasional consumer into a “customer for life.”
Stick to the Basics
When Floridians knew for sure that Irma was heading our way, we set out to stock up on basics – enough food, water, fuel, propane, and cash to get us through the uncertainty and potential weeks without power or running water. While some companies seemed to organize quickly to serve the frenzy of customers, many were completely unprepared. Most families didn’t know where or how to find what they needed because supplies became scarce very quickly. After the storm, however, businesses that reopened immediately became heroes in my community (I have to give a shout out to Papa John’s Pizza, Publix and Sedanos Supermarkets and others that went into action and opened their doors as soon as they had power). These businesses helped establish for us a sense of normalcy again. Like my neighbors, I truly appreciated the compassion they demonstrated and, as a result, have become a loyal customer.
Lesson: Businesses should have a disaster and communications plan ready to go, and a well-prepared staff to implement it in the event of a disaster. It’s not just about protecting your business; it’s also about being able to serve your customers when they need you the most.
Show Me You Care
I received a great deal of e-mails before, during and after the storm. However, only a few local businesses sent e-mails of concern for my safety. These companies earned my respect and stood out among the sea of e-mails. Yet, the many sales-related e-mails I received had the opposite effect. They upset me because I thought, “Don’t you know that I’m getting ready for a hurricane right now?” These companies would have been wise to segment me by location, identify me as being in the path of Irma and send me a quick e-mail letting me know that they cared. Instead, most e-mails promoted sales to encourage me to shop, which was the last thing on my mind during a crisis.
Lesson: Companies need to segment their customers by location, and in the event of a disaster, communicate that they are aware and sympathetic to their situation. This is a powerful tool for creating customers for life. Like most consumers, I want to know that companies care about me, and not just my wallet.
A Different Kind of Connectivity
Something miraculous occurred as a result of the storm. Because we had no power or internet, people were obligated to connect with one another. I had long talks with family, friends and neighbors I hadn’t spoken to in a while. I also talked with managers and employees of different businesses, and those that demonstrated a level of concern for their customers’ needs, preparedness and safety left a very positive impression on me. This is priceless, as human connections are so powerful they trump all other forms of connection. Many consumers I know will travel a little farther and spend more money to patronize a business that makes them feel special. This sense of community and humanity, fostered by positive face-to-face interactions, can never be cultivated as powerfully online.
LESSON: Train your employees to listen patiently and communicate effectively in person with customers, especially in times of crisis. Those companies that go the extra mile to make customers feel heard and valued will reap the benefits of keeping customers long term.
What’s Important Matters
Thankfully, I can report that my friends and family made it through the storm with only minor damages and inconveniences. It has been a while since we’ve experienced a storm of this magnitude, and we’ve forgotten the power Mother Nature has to disrupt our lives, remind us of what’s truly important and compel us to count our blessings. Without the mental haze brought on by our crazy, busy lives, we were forced to be present and clearly see what really mattered. Also, to all my fellow Floridians, especially those caught directly in the path of Irma, I wish for you a speedy recovery. My heart and prayers go out to you!
The Most Powerful Test
In the end, the greatest lesson from Irma could be this: that getting to know what’s important to your customers, communicating with them about it and treating them like they’re vital to your business may be the most effective marketing strategy ever.
Photo sources: The Epoch Times, CNN, and ABC News.