Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Chicken, Bus, Holland America & Associations: How do you treat your members?

Last month, our Holland America (@HALcruises) tour bus broke down while we were driving the Top of the World highway (TOTWH) from Chicken, ALaska, to Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada.

Holland America's response with this unexpected delay made me think about how our associations treat members when the unexpected happens.

If you've travelled the Top Of The World highway, you clearly know the meaning of desolate!  

  • Chicken, Alaska, an isolated (100+ miles from nearest cell signal) "way station" of 37 people is a hard hour drive from Tok, the nearest village. 
  • TOTWH is a winding, narrow 1 1/2 lane gravel mountain-top road. Because it is so narrow, a "pilot truck" escorted us to warn oncoming vehicles of our "wide load" and alerted our driver to oncoming traffic. 
About five minutes after leaving Chicken, our bus missed a sharp corner, slammed down on the road and burst it's oil pan, leaving a trail of oil for about 100 yards. Fortunately, one of the passengers noticed and yelled so our driver knew to stop.

Holland America's emergency system took over. (First item I noticed was that the bus driver pulled a satellite phone from an emergency kit.)

  • After confirming the problem, they marshaled the second bus in our convoy to get us back to Chicken and its three buildings and equipped with four "modern" outhouses. Could have been a major customer service problem. Meanwhile, they dispatched a relief bus from Dawson City (about 3 hours away). Our tour guide offered to show a movie via her laptop (yes, about half the group took her up on it!).
  • Throughout the delay, the Holland America rep kept us updated on the process (including a delay in the arrival of the relief bus). And, when we arrived in our hotel room in Dawson, we all found a letter from Holland America giving each of us $50 per person credit for our delay. Classy!
 Obviously, your association may not manage events in an area as isolated as Chicken, Alaska, but you are likely to confront various issues.

What about your association? Problems at a hotel? Weather forcing a delay to the start of meetings? Transmission problems delaying a webinar? Wrong call-in number for a meeting?

In witnessing the Holland America team, I was reminded of the importance of pre-planning, systems backups and crisis communications planning.

Remember, from your member and participant point of view:
  • It’s not what happens that matters, it’s how your association responds.

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