Brand perceptions of 1 brand can be influenced by small, unconnected actions of others

Here’s a cautionary tale about how the innocuous actions of one brand can influence perceptions of another brand as well as cascade into more complicated issues.

At the end of October 2019 I flew into Kuala Lumpur International Airport from Narita, landing at 0500 hrs. On arrival at KLIA, I have 2 options to get to my house, Grab or the KLIA airport limousine service.

I intended to use Grab but when I arrived, I was prompted to take my picture for authentication purposes. As I’ve cracked my screen right over the forward facing camera, this wasn’t an option.

So the only option was the airport limo service. I couldn’t find an app for the service and their website doesn’t list the fares so I needed to use the booths at the airport.

I knew from memory that arriving between midnight and 0600 hours means I incur a 50% surcharge, which is fair enough.

As I walked through customs and reached the Airport Limo counter, it was closed. Fortunately I know there is also a counter at the domestic arrivals but I did wonder what the Japanese families who were on the same flight would do if they intended to take a taxi downtown.

Walking to the domestic arrivals area, I was approached by two illegal taxi operators who offered to take me downtown for RM200, almost double the expected airport limo rate, even after the surcharge.

Of course I told them to get lost but there are numerous stories on the internet of people who have been duped by these unscrupulous operators and I wonder if they approached any first time visitors, would they have paid the inflated price?

As these are not licensed operators, I presume they are not insured.

Anyway, when I got to the domestic taxi counter, I asked why the counter at international arrivals was closed and the young man replied, ‘Not closed, they are asleep.’

Now while I respect his honesty he shouldn’t be saying that. I mean, what sort of message does it send?

Finally, this frustrating and underwhelming brand experience ended with me walking out to the car where the only 2 drivers were talking to each other.

As I got in my car, the driver continued to chat with his friend. He then got in the car and continued chatting. It was all very casual, as if me the customer was more of an irritant than his only source of income.

But it also showcases the lack of appreciation for the customer that is so common in Malaysia.

It’s as if there is an assumption that there will always be an unlimited source of customers. This is especially common with those businesses that are monopolies.

This despite what happened recently to established businesses such as the taxi industry that has been decimated by travel disruptor Grab.

What are the branding lessons to be learned from this simple yet important interaction? The issue here is one of stakeholder communication and brand management.

These brands need to ask themselves why the booth at international arrivals is closed at a time 100s of passengers are landing at KLIA? How often does this happen?

Do staff sleep every night? If yes, what is the direct and indirect impact on revenue and reputation?

Why are the brand front liners so ill prepared for a simple customer question? Have they not been trained properly? What else do they answer so naively?

What can be done to fix the problem? How can staff be trained to present a more professional explanation? In this case, a simple response to such a question could be, “Sorry sir, they are changing shifts and will be back online in 5 minutes.”

There has been a lot of talk about illegal taxi operators at KLIA and how there is a zero tolerance toward them. That doesn’t seem to be the case in reality.

This isn’t just an issue for the KL taxi service, it’s also an issue for the Malaysia nation brand and the airport operator.

If tourists unwittingly use an illegal taxi and they are involved in an accident, incur medical expenses or worse, are killed. Who is accountable? Are the authorities, through lax enforcement, culpable?

Will it take a serious accident causing injury or even death to tourists to make the government do something?

What will be the impact on the brand if there is an accident and it goes viral? What damage will be done and how much and how long will it take to address the negative impact on the brand?

What will be the consequences of such an event on potential visitors or investors in the country? Will they potentially choose an alternative destination or review Malaysia as an investment option?

If illegal taxi operators are allowed to function without fear of prosecution, how does that impact the airport’s relationship with legal operators? If illegal taxi services can operate freely, why should legal operators follow the rules?

In the future, could those legitimate operators sue Malaysia Airports for loss of income?

What about the reputation of the police, already under fire in Malaysia for numerous issues ranging from drug abuse to mysterious disappearances, corruption and more?

What about the reputation of PDRM, will it be further tarnished by illegal touts operating with impunity at the airport?

If a Minister has stated there will be zero tolerance to illegal taxi touts why are they still operating? What impact will this have on future statements from the Minister, a representative of the government?

Successful branding requires all stakeholders to work together, to understand what is their responsibility to the brand and what is required to deliver a seamless, positive brand experience at every touch point every time.

This simple example of a seemingly innocuous event with one brand has the potential to negatively impact numerous other brands. Every business should look at branding from the same perspective and not in isolation.

It’s potentially complicated but the rewards for all stakeholders are positive and for commercial organisations lead to greater profits.

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