Published on: September 14, 2011by Kate McMahon
To borrow a line from songwriter Joni Mitchell, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
For me, that was power, water, cable, internet and landline phone service for eight days following Hurricane Irene’s assault on the East Coast. My single lifeline to the world, a Blackberry on the Verizon network, worked sporadically until the battery died.
Stepping over tree limbs to survey a downed utility pole, smashed transformer and live wires criss-crossing my driveway, I was immensely grateful that my family and neighbors were not harmed during the violent storm. And I soon came to realize just how absolutely dependent we are on technology to communicate, work, feed our families, manage finances, even to tell time. I found myself longing for a battery operated transistor radio, a gas stove, a rotary dial phone and a wind-up clock.
I also came to appreciate the businesses that sought to serve their customers, anticipating needs and delivering service in the most difficult times. Too often we read about retailers jacking up the price of batteries, generators, bottled water, snow-blowers or plywood before a blizzard or hurricane. A truer test of mettle is doing the right thing when the skies darken.
So here are my Hurricane Irene kudos to:
Walter Stewart’s Market, New Canaan, CT: Before the storm hit, this family-owned market donated all prepared, perishable and frozen foods to the town to help feed residents staying at the emergency shelter and volunteers. It then set up shop in the parking lot selling water, batteries, non-perishables and paper goods until power was restored to the market five days later. Appreciative customers lined up in droves to restock their refrigerators and trade storm stories.
Starbucks: With 80% of the homes in my town of 20,000 without power, residents flocked to the local library and Starbucks to charge cell phones and computers and log onto Wi-Fi services. Not to mention order coffee. Starbucks ramped up service to accommodate the increased demand, and allowed customers to plug power strips into outdoor outlets so as many as six people could charge up together. It worked, and yielded increased revenue and major good will.
Canine Fence: This pet-protection service emailed customers with specific and helpful storm preparation tips well in advance of the hurricane. A post-Irene email was equally detailed about battery back-up, de-activating systems and providing an 800-number for help while its website was down.
Chase Consumer Banking: It was day three in the dark when I focused on paying my on-line bills. I was heartened by an email from Chase acknowledging the crisis, offering help from advisors and waiving fees on over-drafts, late payments, ATM withdrawals and more. Most importantly, the bank said it encouraged its employees to “go the extra mile” to assist those impacted by the storm. Small change? Perhaps, but I found it a meaningful outreach that favorably altered my take on Chase even though I didn’t need those services.
Just as every household should have an emergency preparedness plan, I think retailers and service providers should do the same, focusing on providing customer service in the truest sense of the term.
Comments? Do you have your own storm story? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
- KC's View: