How Amazon Mayday Could Have Helped Weather the Toronto Ice Storm

Rethinking Communications

How Amazon Mayday Could Have Helped Weather the Toronto Ice Storm

By Jon Arnold, Principal, J Arnold & Associates  |  March 17, 2014

Given the title of my column – Rethinking Communications – sometimes the best ideas come from either outside the communications space or from unexpected events. This time around, I’m drawing from both, out of which I think you’ll come away thinking differently about your relationship with customers.

Part of this story has to do with Amazon Mayday, which was a very big story last November. The second half of the story is an unexpected event, namely the Toronto ice storm, which pretty much paralyzed the city for over a week around Christmas, as heavy ice knocked out power for more than 300,000 households. My home was one of them, and it was nine days before we got power back.

Like Amazon Mayday, this story didn’t happen yesterday, but both have crossed my path, and stepping back, there are some noteworthy takeaways from this unlikely mashup for both the contact center and business-level decision makers.

Takeaway No. 1 - Agility is King

Agility is easier said than done, but it’s one the best differentiators a business can have these days. Taken at face value, Mayday’s 15-second response promise epitomizes agility, and while the outcome is all customers care about, you have to focus on the process. Delivering this level of service requires tremendous operational agility, and in the world of Internet commerce, Amazon wrote the book. Communications technologies have a role to play, but so do data analytics and ability to translate CRM data into rapid responses that solve problems on the spot. If you can find a better way to build customer loyalty, I’d like to hear about it.

Now, apply that thinking to the Toronto ice storm. While Toronto Hydro did a great job coping with the scale of havoc, customers were literally in the dark and in the cold. Its contact center was quickly overwhelmed, and deemed largely ineffective at helping customers when they really needed attention.

While Amazon has a strong motivation for offering Mayday service – namely, keeping its tablet buyers happy – Toronto Hydro isn’t faced with the risk of customer defection. Maybe so, but its lack of responsiveness or accessibility didn’t earn the organization any loyalty points either. Nobody can predict the fallout of events like this, but there is a core set of touch points and experiences that are well enough understood and could have been better addressed with a more agile operation.

Takeaway No. 2 – Take a Holistic View of the Customer

I’m sure Toronto Hydro has a pretty good idea of what customers were going through, but it is really just one part of the solution. All forms of emergency service needed to be involved, along with hospitals, pharmacies, electricians, arborists, telcos, cablecos, the hospitality sector, grocery stores and a host of municipal relief services. This really speaks to the need for a military-style effort coordinated and managed by a centralized authority, but there was little evidence of this during the crisis.

In time, everything got done, and to my knowledge there were no fatalities. However, the city is still tallying up the enormous financial cost, and along the way, hopefully seeing how processes could have been better handled via a more integrated response plan. This may be more about fine-tuning than an overhaul, but in terms of the customer experience, a holistic view could tell them a lot about how to set and manage expectations. We all knew the power would come back at some point, but there was very little sense of when, what we needed to do, or how best to stay informed.

In times of crisis, you need to be accessible and responsive, and that’s where thinking like Amazon comes into play. With today’s communications tools, much more could have been done – such as smartphone apps to provide real-time updates – to ensure that customers knew that Toronto Hydro was seeing what they were seeing.

Jon Arnold (News - Alert) is principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and marketing consultancy.


Jon Arnold is principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and marketing consultancy with a focus on IP communications, and writes the Analyst 2.0 blog. Previously, he was the VoIP program leader at Frost & Sullivan.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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