Something I’ve realized in the past few weeks: working in employer branding has systematically ruined my consumer experience (exaggeration alert — while I was studying marketing in school I also used to say that marketing had ruined my ability to watch commercials in peace. In reality, it just made the Super Bowl THAT much more interesting).
What I’m trying to say, however, is that after working at Stories Inc. this past year and interacting with our amazing clients; hearing their stories has caused me to rethink every interaction I have with a company. So much of how we perform at work is impacted by the way we are treated and the environment that we’re in, and there is really no excuse for making that environment a poor one.
So whenever an interaction with an employee stands out to me, positive or negative, I can’t help but wonder to myself, “what is this company’s culture and how did it lead to what I just experienced?”
And now, a story
All this newly discovered awareness came to a head a few weeks back when I took a trip to Ireland with my sister. While we had the time of our lives, let’s just say our traveling could have gone a little smoother.
On the way there we flew Airline A, and when we got to the airport were met by a very long check-in line. Unconcerned, we waited. And waited. Then waited some more. After 20 minutes without moving I decided to check the departure board only to find that our flight had been cancelled.
Deep breath, it’s going to be okay.
I returned to line to spread the word to everyone else what I had discovered. As we all began to frantically check our emails and came up empty-handed, a near-tangible ripple of anger made its way through the crowd.
Why haven’t we been told our flight was cancelled? Where is a manager? Why are only two check-in tables manned to service all these people that need to be somewhere?
The next few hours of agony in summary: we were successfully placed by the airline on a new flight, only to discover later that we were issued tickets we could not actually claim (picture my face getting progressively redder). Unequipped to handle the size of the problem they created, Airline A then proceeded to send us on a wild goose chase to hunt down a flight ourselves (steam coming out of my ears at this point). Finally, after four hours, we were put on a flight that luckily left that night, but ultimately cost us our first night in Ireland.
Needless to say, this was a pretty horrible consumer experience for me and my sister. Between the absence of communication from management and the utter lack of ownership or urgency by the employees to solve the problem, we had no intentions of flying Airline A again. And you can bet we told everyone we knew the horrible service we received.
*Insert 10 days of incredible experiences in Ireland here, and a safe, easy first leg of our flight back to Washington, DC going through New York City*
As my sister and I celebrated our return to American soil and entered our terminal, we discovered that our flight was delayed three hours. I’m not sure whose eyes were wider, to be honest, but I think a small, exhausted tear may have fallen from my eye. Not again.
Still burned from our experience with Airline A, I skeptically asked my sister to check her email for any information. She found that 30 minutes before she had received an email from Airline B informing us of our delay, apologizing for the inconvenience, and promising timely updates.
Due to a storm and cancelled flights in the Midwest, we were without a plane and our flight was delayed four more times (each delay, I will add, was accompanied by an email). We ultimately got home about 10 hours later than we were supposed to, going from a nice 8pm arrival to a sleepless night in the airport and landing around 6am the next day.
I’m not going to pretend those 13 hours were easy or remotely fun (though I will say, seeing a dog relieve himself on the carpet of the terminal around 1:45am, right next to a man snoring was the cherry on top of a night of mayhem).
But, I will be a testament to how professional and helpful the crew members from Airline B were.
They were utterly transparent about the reason our flight was delayed, and if you went to ask a question you were given real-time information from a smiling and accommodating crew member. Despite the hundreds of stranded travelers in the terminal, each representative remained confident in their company’s ability to fix this problem.
And how did we eventually get home, you may ask? A crew of pilots who had just finished their shift instead hopped back on a plane to come back to New York, just to fly us home. That is dedication to your company and to your customers.
Now that I’ve had some time to catch up on sleep and reflect on the situation, it truly is amazing to me how different the two experiences were. Both airlines and crew teams were in situations outside of their control — a flight had been cancelled or delayed. Why had they been handled so differently?
A year ago I may have chalked it up to lazy or incompetent individuals. Now that I have a year of employer branding experience under my belt, what do I do? I go to Glassdoor.
The employer branding golden rule
When I looked up Airline A, I was unsurprised to find less than three stars, and less than half of reviewers would recommend working there to a friend. When I read through the reviews themselves, phrases such as “unmotivating management,” “low employee morale,” and “oppressive” jumped out at me. No wonder the service was sub-par.
When I looked up Airline B? Four stars and nearly 90% would recommend. Reviews spoke of the autonomy each and every employee enjoys and how they felt “trusted” by the company. One connected this trust to how he feels empowered to do a great job everyday. While no organization is perfect, generally speaking the reviews praised the culture and how the employees are valued.
My diagnosis? The kind of culture and work environment a company creates not only affects the happiness of their employees, but has a direct impact on job performance and therefore customer satisfaction. This fact is why companies need to lead with their employer brand, not their consumer brand. Because it all trickles down, and a fulfilled employee makes a happy customer.