Winter weather recently has been creating havoc. Just before the Christmas holidays, an ice storm crippled the southeastern region of Canada causing power outages and massive transportation delays. Many flights were cancelled and redirected from airports in the region.

The Canadian regional carrier, Porter Airlines, operations nearly came to a stand still, along with most other carriers.  While Porter Airlines were able to move people to their destinations with delays and redirects, the passengers’ bags didn’t make the trip with them. In fact, whole planes did not have their luggage. Other airlines didn’t seem to have this issue it will be noted. It was a perfect storm for a customer relations disaster: the holidays, severe weather event, and more luggage than normal (due to the holidays.)

Customers, for the most part, accepting challenges during a weather event. There is nothing anyone can do. No one can control the weather. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was that customers weren’t getting basic information about their lost luggage from Porter Airlines. Phone calls, emails, tweets, and posts on Facebook were going unanswered. Two weeks on, passengers are just getting their luggage. Often after they have returned from their holidays.


Porter Airlines Facebook Page

Click on Photo to Enlarge.

How can you prevent a customer relations meltdown?

How to communicate during a crisis such a major weather event like an ice storm should have been factored in during Porter Airlines crisis planning. It is a lack or complete breakdown of basic crisis communications for the airline. Don’t let that happen to your organization.

The following are all interconnected and work together helping you communicate effectively.

Telling the Truth & Sharing the Facts

This may sound like an oversimplification, but it really isn’t. It is important to tell the truth and be as transparent as you legally can. You can’t hide from a crisis today. Mobile technology and social media pretty much guarantee that. Release only confirmed facts. Do not speculate or even give an educated guess. Stick to your holding statements. It is okay not to be able to answer a question or address a concern. It is also okay to let people know that you don’t have an answer but will get one. Then find the answers you need and follow up sharing it on all channels.

People don’t want to hear excuses. They what to hear answers. Straight answers and how the situation is going to be resolved.

Communicating Internally

Do you have a way for staff to report in or get information fast? Set up an out-of-area number that staff may call to say they’re OK. You will want to use your company intranet and email to send out information about the crisis. A phone tree and SMS text messaging are also options.

Your organizational model and industry determine how your notification system will be set up. FedEx, for example, uses the Manager as Communicator model. Important messages and news are sent to managers, and managers hold team meetings to communicate the needed information. If there is an urgent message when the drivers are out on their routes, FedEx sends a dispatch message on the scanner. Before a driver who has received a notification can continue with deliveries, he or she must read the short message.

It is important the staff, and especially front-line staff, be given the most updated information so they can communicate effectively with customers.

Communicating Externally

Externally, the type of industry your organization is determines how you are going to communicate with customers. The notification system for a chemical plant is going to be very different from that of a retail store. The principles are the same, though: You want to communicate quickly and effectively reach your communities. You need to know your communities’ preferences. Phone calls, SMS texts, emails, Twitter, Facebook, and traditional media are all acceptable channels. And at times, you will have to deploy all of those channels to reach your customers.

Keeping your Web site updated is important during a crisis; however, your Facebook page and Twitter feed active by sharing information is critical. Remember that people aren’t necessarily going to go to your website during a crisis. They’re going to turn to sites where their friends and family are and are likely to be accessible such as Facebook and Twitter. Depending on the type of industry you are, you may have a dark website ready to go live. This is common with power companies. Porter Airlines should have a dark website really to go for a major weather event focusing on giving their customers the information they need.

Websites and all digital properties should be fully staffed regardless of it being a weekend or holiday. Staff should be responding on those channels helping customers in a timely manner.

Incorporating the above into your crisis communications plan can help mitigate the situation.

breach crisis communications

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