If you think exceptional customer experience requires too much time or money or technology, think again.

All it really takes is the empathy to ask the right question — and perhaps a few AA batteries.

That was the conclusion that became crystal clear under the muddy skies of a post-Hurricane Matthew dawn in South Carolina, when angry floodwaters had yet to subside and many anxious property owners were still waiting, hundreds of miles from their homes, for status updates on their properties.

Stepping Up to Help

There I was, tired and bedraggled, standing outside a soon to reopen grocery store with a cluster of other intrepid souls who had resisted — for many reasons — the strong suggestion to evacuate before the storm.

And then a man tapped me on the shoulder, asking simply "What do you need?" — and motioning me toward a truck filled with Duracell batteries of all kinds, as well charging stations for electronic devices and access to Wi-Fi.

"How much are they?" someone asked.

"No charge," said Duracell's Alfonso Arteaga. "Take what you need."

After as much as two days without power, some people actually cried.

Deadly, Destructive Matthew

Mass evacuations were ordered from coastal communities in the Carolinas and Georgia last week as the wicked storm — which peaked at Category 5 strength with 160 mph winds — left a trail of death and destruction across the Caribbean. To date, the storm is known to have killed 1,027, including 1,000 people in Haiti.

The hurricane made landfall in Haiti and eastern Cuba on Oct. 4 as a Category 4, hammered the Bahamas Oct. 5 and 6 as a Category 3 and 4 hurricane and then roared very close to the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Many people in the hurricane's path heeded warnings to leave the area. But others stayed behind. Some were unable to leave because of illness or economic conditions. Many others simply had nowhere to go, especially if they had pets. Others had to work: first responders, medical personnel, news reporters tasked with sharing information about the storm.

Assessing Needs After the Storm

Matthew battered my neighborhood early Saturday, filling the house with eerie echoes as wind whipped tree branches against roofs and shutters. By mid-day, it was over. But most people lost power, making candles and flashlights essential and thoughts of a dying cell phone a steady source of anxiety.

By Sunday morning, the sight of those Duracell reps handing out batteries restored equilibrium to a nervous crowd. It said what every brand works so hard to convey to its customers: namely, "we've got your back."

Duracell's PowerForward Program

Alfonso Arteaga
Danbury, Conn.-based Arteaga is Duracell's North American brand manager. As he handed out batteries and plugged in cell phones, he explained Duracell has a program called PowerForward, which includes four specially outfit trucks in Louisiana, New Hampshire, California and Missouri.

"Whenever there is a storm that creates a lot of power outages, we deploy our trucks. This time, we mobilized the one in New Orleans, which is in Florida now, and this one, which traveled south from New Hampshire.

Learning Opportunities

Since 2011, the trucks have responded to a variety of natural disasters, including hurricanes, tornados and winter storms.

"People typically respond with awe and appreciation, and we are actually very humbled by people's reactions. We're here to serve people who need help," he said.

"We stand on trust. It's one thing to say you're the trusted brand and another thing to show that."

CX Lessons Learned

In that soggy parking lot, Duracell acted with a refreshing degree of humanity. No one was trying to measure anything beyond how many batteries someone needed for a specific flashlight.

There was no data collection. No one was asked for an email address, much less a name.

And yet it was the best example of personalization I've seen in a long time.

Duracell didn't know who they were serving or even whether they were existing customers. The reps just asked questions that perhaps all brands should consistently incorporate as the foundation of their customer experience programs:

  • What do you need?
  • How can we help?

If you ask those questions, you'll always have value to your customers.

(Still struggling after Hurricane Matthew? You can check the location of the Duracell PowerForward trucks on the company's Twitter feed.)

Title image by Asa Aarons Smith