Nightmare Brands: The Case of Intercape bus , South Africa

Money on fire 2Written by Chipo Mapungwana.

This is not my normal blog post. In fact, today is not a normal day. I am exhausted. This is an account  of a real life experience that illustrates how  brands can self- destruct  and make enemies out of otherwise  loyal and happy customers. Life as they say is a great teacher  and often times one gets to experience how brands lose market share and ultimately die no matter how big they once were. When companies consistently fail to take care of their customers, they will ultimately be overtaken by those companies that do. And Intercape Bus South Africa is a brand that is pouring fire all over its engines. This is a personal experience of one such a raging fire that Intercape bus failed to handle well. My nightmare experience started on the 18th April and ended on the 23rd April. Intercape is a luxury bus service that travels between Harare and Johannesburg. It offers a sleeper coach service, that passengers are (were) willing to pay for because one is supposed to get to one’s destination , rested and ready to shop ,or  to do whatever business one travelled for, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Brand Mismanagement: The Intercape bus way

Make sure that your mission, vision and company slogan sound pretty good but  have nothing to do with how you really think about your customers.

To annoy your clients, contrary to your promise to be on time,, dependable etc,  place painfully  slow staff at your front check in desks. If you are a bus company, this will delay the departure of your buses and will start them on the way to a truly frustrated journey. Create confusion by getting your staff to tell your customers different information so that they do not know what to do. They tell your customers that they do not listen well.

Make sure that your policies, procedures and rules have nothing to do with pleasing your customers.

Make your long distance travelling clients even more angry by refusing to turn off the bus DVD player and the cabin lights until after 11 because your bosses in Head office say so. Make sure that your passengers are exhausted when they reach their journey’s end  because they did not get much sleep on the 17 hour journey from Harare to Johannesburg.

Don’t bother delivering the basics , just do what you can, if you can, customers’ expectations don’t matter.

Forget that the point of your brand is to deliver the basics and to make sure that you do what you say you will do. So, if you say you are delivering your customers to Johannesburg,  and your bus breaks down in Pretoria, at least you delivered them to South Africa. They can find their way home. Since they are travellers, you can always assume that they have the money to board other transport to get themselves to where they are going.

In fact , should your bus break down, you don’t have to actually tell your passengers anything. Just leave them in the bus and tell them nothing until they figure it out for themselves that the bus aka your service has stopped running.

Don’t’ tell your customers that there are extra costs to the service, that they should budget for.

When your customers come to your offices to purchase a service, you don’t have to tell them that there will be extra chargers further down the line should they wish to use you company. Intercape bus charges you a fee to board the bus, but what they don’t tell customers is that if these said passengers are bringing back any electrical goods, eg a TV, Microwave , etc from South Africa, they have to fork out another 600 rand (US$70) for each item. And the bigger/ taller the item, the more  the money that passengers pay.  Whether or not this money actually sees the coffers of the company is anybody’s guess.

You don’t have to tell your clients the truth when a crisis is occurring

While time is previous and should be respected by those who are giving a service to others, your company, if it is called Intercape Luxury Bus service , can do away with such a humanitarian service. So when the bus breaks down after entering Zimbabwe, while in Beitbridge, you don’t have to tell any of your passengers what is wrong or how long it will take you to fix the problem. In fact, even though your passengers probe and threaten, your staff know that the least amount of information is the most desirable state of affairs for the company.

Take as long a time as possible to resolve a problem, your customers are stuck with you

Only when your customers are exhibiting physical signs of fatigue  and stress should your staff  communicate that you have had a major breakdown  and that they need help from head office. Meanwhile, Head office should not be in a hurry to act, per chance the bus or problem may miraculously disappear, or the local people may have a solution to the problem. Only take action when you are satisfied that enough time has lapsed. Even the action that you take should not be hurried. In fact, after waiting for your bus for 12 hours at a garage, your exhausted passengers can afford to wait another 8 hours for a bus from Pretoria, because you really cannot organise local transport to take them home , can you?

Make sure that your solution to the problem is as uncomfortable and unpalatable as possible.

Should your clients wish to continue with your service, make sure that the solution that you give them to the problem at hand is as unpalatable as it can get. In the case of Intercape Bus service from Johannesburg to Harare that left South Africa on Sunday 21st April, this meant arranging for two reluctant Intercape bus drivers travelling from South Africa to Zambia and Malawi to pick up what passengers they could in Beitbridge, Zimbabwe. These buses arrived at 8pm on the 22nd April. The bus drivers of these two coaches wanted nothing to do with any luggage belonging to the stranded Zimbabweans and so, only hand language was admitted on board. The bus driver of the Zambia bus also reminded the boarding passengers that they should sit at the back of the bus because it had been a while since they took a bath. To make matters even worse, a nature documentary was played until 11pm to entertain the exhausted passengers. For the passengers that had been given a lift by the Malawi bound bus, their nightmare was still unravelling as that bus broke down en-route to Harare.

We eventually got home at 4m on the morning of the 23rd April. The Zimbabwean passengers in the Malawi bound bus got home much later.  While buses break down and brands get into operational trouble, it is how both the staff at hand and the decision makers handle the crisis that creates feelings of anger or feelings of continued loyalty. In this case, 55 passengers resolved that they would not board another Intercape bus ever again.

For Branding and Marketing consulting contact Chipo at







About chipomaps

A brand reputation, marketing and new media trainer and consultant. Constantly curious, constantly learning.
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One Response to Nightmare Brands: The Case of Intercape bus , South Africa

  1. dongrgic says:

    Such an amazing story. We have all had bad experiences intransit.. but this is the worst I have heard so far. Get some rest. You deserve it.

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