Vitamin T Business Development Manager Deborah Musolff gives this cautionary tale to brands who don’t yet understand the power of good (and bad) communication.
About a year ago, while I was living in Australia, I had chosen to fly on an airline legendarily known for their poor service. Their price point was right on, so I thought I’d give them a “fair go.”
Heading into the airport, I was looking forward to my trip back home. I quickly got into the check-in queue.
I stood there for a long while, getting increasingly concerned as the cut-off time for check-in was fast approaching. I’d gotten to the airport in plenty of time, but there I was standing with a hundred or so others, waiting…waiting…
And then the whispers from customers began: ’Is the flight cancelled?” “Is there a delay?” “What’s going on?”
The next thing we know, a message appears on the screen above the check-in counters: Sydney 822 Flight Cancelled.
Normally at this stage, I would expect a check-in person to come to the line and explain what happened, what our options were, etc. Or perhaps, if they were a super savvy company like Virgin, they would have sent a text on the way to the airport, so I could have turned the car around and saved half a day and booked a new flight.
But there was... nothing. Zippo. Zilch.
We all stood there, bewildered. Some people starting Googling new flights; one person yelled from queue to counter, “Excuse me…what’s going on? Can someone give us some information so we know what to do here?”
We continued to stand in the queue, and one by one, each person got to the front of the line and dealt with check-in. One by one, each person who’d dealt with the check-in agent turned around and fumed aloud, “I am never, EVER flying with this airline again!”
At the time, I was a recruiter specializing in communications roles exclusively, so I knew the importance of the communications piece in servicing customers. Though the airline could not control the fact that the plane had mechanical issues, they absolutely COULD have communicated with their customers in a better way.
When I finally got to the counter, I received my much-needed information. At that point I turned around, faced the people still standing in the queue and announced what was happening and what our options were.
When I was through, someone yelled out, “THANK YOU! At least SOMEONE is telling us what is going on! WHY couldn’t they just have TOLD US THAT?!?!”
Every person on that flight, and every subsequent person I spoke to who’d flown on this airline, echoed that this company’s lack of communication has always been a primary source of irritation. Most of them swore that they would never fly them again. And—the most dangerous attack to any brand—they’d shared their sentiments on every social media platform possible.
So who needs communications?
Every company; every human being.
Whether you’re a wife talking with your partner to make the relationship stronger, or a waiter explaining to a table why their food is taking so long, or a company speaking to their staff about their options after making a mass layoff—great communication is essential.
And when it is ignored, you suffer the consequences.
Unfortunately, some companies still don’t understand the important role of communication in business in a digital world. It’s often confused with pure marketing, but there are a myriad of other areas it covers which aren’t simply tied to marketing the business.
These areas include: media relations; internal/employee communications; change management; thought leadership; public affairs; crisis communications; investor relations; issues management; corporate social responsibility… It’s not a short list!
And when companies cut their marketing and communications departments, they may not realize how much damage they’re doing to the brand they’ve worked so hard to build.
The simple fact is that knowledge is power—the power to make decisions, to figure out next steps, to keep a calm head—and the best way to give your customers, friends, and loved ones that power (and keep them around) is through effective communication.
What about you? Have you had any experiences recently that have completely turned you off a brand? Let me know in the comments section.