Corporate and personal brand building is easy on sunny days when everything is proceeding on schedule.

This is true, whether you’re an employee, a self-employed professional, or a huge corporation–like one of the largest airlines in the world.

The real test of a brand’s commitment to brand building customer service is when everything goes wrong…like what happened in the “C” Concourse of Cleveland’s Hopkins International Airport last Thursday evening.


When my wife informed me I would be flying United Airlines from Boston to Cleveland, and back, last week, I didn’t have much of an opinion.

In the past, I had frequently flown United Airlines, but United had neither a good nor a bad brand with me. It was just another large airline. Nothing stood out either way.

However, all that changed late last Thursday evening, when my flight home was canceled because of a combination of a thunderstorm stalled over the airport for several hours plus a mechanical problem with the replacement airplane.

Adversity builds a brand

The brand-building began when the gate agent informed everyone what was going on, and how they planned to get us home that night. Score One for United: the gate agent kept us informed throughout the evening displayed concern.

When it became obvious that the flight had to be canceled, she was apologetic and empathetic. She explained how and why the flight had to be canceled.

Surprisingly, I felt she was as disappointed as the passengers were! She was genuinely empathetic when she made the announcement.

United customer service center

I expected the worst when we were told to visit United’s Customer Service Center; all day long, the lines had been long, because of the thunderstorms throughout the country.

The line had grown even longer as the evening proceeded.

When it was finally my turn, the agent was surprisingly empathetic. She was poised, professional, but concerned. She explained the status of cancellations and full flights on Friday, but–again–she acted as if she really cared. She also acted like I was her first passenger of the day. She found me a seat on the first Boston flight.

She shared a few resources, and a “distressed” voucher for a discount at a local hotel. Not a perfect solution, but, Score Two for United, she did not make me feel rushed!  She did what she could without losing poise or patience.

Summoned by intercom

I left the gate, and found a quiet spot to sit down and regroup.

A few minutes later, I heard my name being paged and was told to report back to the Customer Service Center.

When I got there, someone met me at the edge of the line, and explained that because my problem was rooted in the mechanical issue, I was entitled to guest lodging. She had already made a reservation for me at one of the airport hotels. All I had to do was go to Position #5 outside baggage claim, where I’d be picked up.

Score Three for United! Having realized she had made a mistake, the customer service representative had gone out of her way, making extra work for herself, in order to make sure that I received what I was entitled to. That’s pretty amazing!

Even more significant, having realized her mistake, because of teamwork, she was able to continue serving the person in front of her, because the supervisor stepped in to deal with me. To me, that’s evidence of some pretty impressive team building on United Airline’s part.

Adversity can build brands

The lesson , of course, is that adversity can help build your brand, especially when things go wrong. Somewhere along the line, United’s Cleveland gate agents and customer service representatives were given the training and motivation to treat customers with care and respect.

As a result, during a stormy night at the Cleveland Airport, United went from “no-brand” to “positive brand” within a matter of a few minutes! I don’t know the names of the United employees involved, but it seemed to be a team effort. Which is pretty rare these days.

In fact, brand-building may even be easier when things go wrong because it’s more noticeable…and the competition may not be as adept at handling customer service problems!

What about your business

What happens when things go wrong in your department or your business? Are you, and everyone involved serving your clients and customers, prepared to make things right?

Do you have procedures set up for handling the unexpected or–as in this case–several unexpected thing going wrong at the same time? Are you set up to turn adversity into a stronger brand? Are you and your staff willing and able to look behind the extra work thrown your way, and empathize with your client’s disappointment and frustration?

And, if you’re an employee, are you ready to step-in and build your personal brand, as well as enhance your value to your employer, by stepping up to the plate with exceptional performance when things go wrong?

If you get a moment, please share your procedures for addressing client or customer problems in your business. Do you have written policies in place for handling complaints and problems? And, have you, too, ever changed your impression of a brand from neutral to positive by the way the individual or firm reacted to unexpected challenges and developments? Share your experiences as comments, below.


Roger C. Parker is an author, speaker, and coach who helps others write better for personal brand building. Get his free 99 Questions to Ask Before You Start to Write  workbook or ask him a question.