The bonds that bind us and how brands win us over

Simon Mainwaring / Brands / 9 years ago

Ordinarily I wouldn’t write about this sort of thing as it’s so close to home but it’s such a wonderful example of how a brand can use service to its advantage.

At Christmas I went home to Australia to visit my family. At LAX, my daughter was wandering through a store while waiting to board our flight. Unfortunately when it came time to board she accidentally left her carry-on luggage behind. It was only at the gate that we realized this. Too late. It had disappeared.

Ordinarily this would be one of life’s little lesson in responsibility and no cause for concern. But inside that bag was something very special – my youngest daughter’s favorite super soft toy that she sleeps with at night. Now this was a different matter.

My eldest daughter felt bad about the loss of the toy and even bought her younger sister a sorry gift (bless!) My youngest daughter did a very good job at managing her sadness at having lost Snugglewuggle. People felt sad all round.

When we arrived in Australia we purchased what we hoped would be an acceptable replacement for Snugglewuggle, but as my daughter confided to me, it only made her think of who she lost. I tried calling the airport and got a long recorded message. I called the store in question for several days to no avail. It was time to move on.

We returned to LA having given up any hope that Snugglewuggle would ever return. We scoured several CVS pharmacies and even contacted the distributor where a wonderful woman named Laurie kindly searched the factory inventory with her reps for the missing bear. (If you’re young and single this probably sounds insane but went you’re a parent with a sleepless child it suddenly becomes completely rational!)

It was at this point we finally gave up hope. Then, miraculously, only a week ago, we received a phone call from my daughter’s school. Apparently a Delta Airlines lost luggage employee in Detroit had received the missing bag through lost property, opened it up and found my daughter’s schoolbooks that she was taking to read on the plane. The employee located the school in California, explained the story, the school called us, we went to LAX andlo and behold, we were reunited with Snuggles.

Not only do I have huge respect for the quality of customer service provided by Delta, but it also made me mindful of how the powerful emotional bonds that bind us are transmitted through products and then associated with brands.

That teddy bear was incredibly meaningful to my daughter. As such, its disappearance was incredibly meaningful to me. As a result, the effort by that Delta Airlines employee has transformed my opinion of that brand forever.

These emotional bonds pass invisibly though products especially across social media. The easiest way to win over a unhappy customer tweeting negative things about your brand is to reach out to them, take responsibility and ask how you can make things right (a lesson Wall Street and Toyota are struggling with). Once you do an unhappy customer can become your greatest champion simply because of how you handled the situation.

So thank you, Delta, for returning Snugglewuggle and reminding me what service is. My youngest daughter is really happy as am I. And don’t let that crooked smile fool you. Snugglewuggle is happy is to be home too.

If you’ve had an experience where you opinion of a brand was transformed, let me know.

BTW: I did ask my daughter if it was ok to share this story. Snuggles didn’t object either.

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  1. Avatar mikescheiner says:

    Your story proves how important customer service is and how it's the true representation of a brand and not necessarily its product. (As you point out with referencing Toyota. Great product, poor customer service and responsibility) It explains why people become advocates for a brand, even though it may cost a bit more, and how much they are willing to stand by those brands, that stand by them.

  2. Totally agree, Mike. Customers only stand by brands as much as brands stand by their own products. We in fact follow their example. It's the companies that have their own house in order that attract the most dedicated customers. Great point. Thanks.

  3. Simon, as a father I can only relate to how much resolving this issue mattered, not only to your daughter, but to you as well. And I think the most powerful message in this story is that even in business, it comes down to relating to another one as people, and how similar experiences can make us understand the immeasurable value of returning a missing bear to a little girl.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful story and reminder of the power of engaging with others on a human level.

  4. So true, Tanveer. As silly as it seems to us, that little bear means the world to my daughter in the same way Google Search probably means to many of us! When brands should view their own products and service with the esteem customers feel and and offer long term loyalty in return. As with all things in life, you has to start with yourself rather than blame someone else. Thanks for the great comment, Simon

  5. Avatar jezmo says:

    And not just brands that stand by their products – brands whose products clearly support and extend what the brand stands FOR. Great post Simon. Pass the Kleenex

  6. Thanks, Jezmo. If a brand makes products that support their purpose – wow – you're right. Then everything falls into place. Great point. Thanks.

  7. Avatar Iconic88 says:

    Bless! This blog post made my day Simon, thank you! Fantastic read! It's authenticity and your emotion as a parent oozes through your narrative.

    You are so right Simon (and loving your post header BTW)), the bonds that bind us are fully realised and weakened/strengthened when connections are stimulated via a direct/indirect negative/positive experience. The question for brands, is understanding and appreciating the 'how' and 'why' >> this you've discussed in previous posts with integrating meaning into brands.

    Service is the key here because service is the connection into how we place value on the experience. Is it positive? is it negative? to what degree? >> this at a roots level.

    How an audience views/perceives a brand is contingent on how we, as consumers, experience the brand. You can commoditize just about any product/service, however superior customer service in alignment with a purpose lifts the perception of a brand into another realm. Authenticity and trust levels dramatically improve into the “I need to tell people about this” arena.

    The brand comes alive through exceptional service, exceptional branding touch-points via exceptional people. As the Maori in New Zealand say, “He Tangata He Tangata”, “its the people, the people”.

    …..and it was a group of people who represented an airline to bring Snuggles home to your daughter.

    It would be interesting to know if it was a parent from Delta who located you. Sometimes as parents, when we find something like a child's toy, we can appreciate the anxiety and feelings another parent could be experiencing. This more than representing the company compelled them to make the trace. So on another level, it's outside of the brand and down to an empathic parental level. It just happens to be that this person was working for Delta.

    If the person who found your bag had been from a specific ethnic group, there would be spillover positive associations and feelings with that group as there are negative ones. If the person was a police officer, this experience would shed positive light on the police at LAX if not the whole of LA. If the person was a McDonalds employee who located your daughter's bag, 'Maccas' would experience the same. If Drew Brees had found it, you'd be a Saints fan for life 😉

    Apologies..I digress Simon.

    Brands + Bonds + Benevolence = Breakthough.

    3 cheers for Delta!! 😉

  8. Totally agree. Love that benevolence formula. You should write a guest post for me (if you want). I'll post it on my site. There's only one other note I'd add. For the dynamic you describe to work most effectively, brands need to apply the same expectations from their service and products that customers do. Not through the lens of profit and efficiency exclusively, but through the lens of customer's needs. So rather than “serve” the customer, they need to be in the service of the customer. A subtle distinction but a consequential one. Thanks and let me know if you ever want to write a guest post. Thanks as ever. Simon

    1. Avatar iconic88 says:

      Hi Simon, I’d love to write a guest post mate [I’ll email you].

      Regarding this post, yes you’re absolutely right!!

      “brands need to apply the same expectations from their service and products that customers do. Not through the lens of profit and efficiency exclusively, but through the lens of customer’s needs. So rather than “serve” the customer, they need to be in the service of the customer. A subtle distinction but a consequential one.”

      To be in ‘service’ of the customer is a very very very different level of thinking & acting from simply ‘serving’ the customer as you say. One is by the book, the other from the heart. One has a motive, the other I would argue ‘love’ is the motive. One is conditional, the other unconditional.

      My parents taught me and all my siblings this: “Always give with both hands. Never give with one hand and let the other person feel your other hand is in their pocket”.

      As you say Simon, a subtle distinction but a consequential one.

      Best, Mahei

  9. Since this is one of my favorite posts ever, I had to dedicate a post on my own blog to it. Hope that's okay! It's just such a great story to share.

  10. Fantastic and thanks so much for spreading the story, Jodi.