Jonathan Barrett, Managing Director, Europe at Dataminr, highlights how the aviation industry can better manage its approach to communications when crises inevitably occur
The aviation industry has been abuzz with drone discussion. The sighting on a Gatwick runway in December 2018 caused major disruption, affecting around 140,000 passengers and over 1,000 flights during 36 hours of confusion. Social media was awash with disgruntled travellers, confused onlookers and brands scrambling to react to the ongoing crisis.
In this scenario, misinformation can circulate just as quickly as fact. Communications teams are given the difficult task of communicating clearly with customers, and for those left to deal with these issues, social media is often seen as an adversary. However, with the right approach, aviation professionals can manage a crisis effectively. By using social channels and real-time alerting to share the right information at the right time with customers, airlines may be able to negate these issues, which will culminate in a more positive customer experience that protects or even enhances brand reputation – a strategic priority for any business.
Customers on the radar
In an ideal scenario, airports run like clockwork. That said, with so many moving parts, and vital departments often working in siloed teams, providing streamlined customer service can be a challenge. Customers transition from check-in desks, to security and the departure lounge without understanding who is accountable when things go wrong. This is the moment when customers turn to social media.
Often, disgruntled customers’ first instinct is to turn to official airport social media channels to raise their grievances. However, the issue can be exacerbated when customers make complaints indirectly, bypassing official channels. These posts can fly under the radar, and if left unaddressed, the fallout can be immediate and far-reaching. Ultimately, a brand’s reputation is at stake.
Increasingly, national news outlets are using social media to stay abreast of breaking events, citing these sources for first-person accounts, on-the-ground video footage, and securing other vital information in real time. This means when posts go up, the situation can quickly spiral out of control.
Worse still, passengers often associate their experience at the airport with the airline they booked with, rather than the airport itself. On a day-to-day basis, this could include more trivial issues such as delays at security, but inconveniences like this are unlikely to cause major reputational damage. However, serious issues can pose real reputation risk, and the closure of Gatwick airport for 36 hours due to a drone sighting is a perfect example. In these situations, as airlines take the flak for cancelled flights, all areas of the airport operation need to be aligned in their communications and have the most up-to-date information available in order to mitigate the crisis effectively. This alignment starts with the planning process.
The drone crisis was, at the time, difficult to predict. When it comes to crisis planning, it is as much about preparation as being flexible and quick to react to situations in the moment. In planning for a variety of crisis situations, it’s essential that brands don’t just look at what they may be directly responsible for, but for issues outside of their control and how any of these can have wider ramifications for the company.
Reacting in real time
Enabling teams to have access to accurate, real-time insights should be central to any organisation’s crisis strategy. Social media provides a rich pool of data, and having the ability to sift through this information for an instant view of real-time chatter is invaluable. In addition, many businesses are incorporating other sources such as blogs, the dark web and information sensors to build their awareness of breaking events.
Acting impulsively, without having full awareness of the situation, can have a devastating effect. In a worst case scenario, security or communications teams could create a new crisis by communicating or acting on inaccurate information. In contrast, brands that use real-time insights to provide concise and accurate updates to their customers can quickly dispel rumours and alleviate concerns.
It is not just the direct customer experience that is at stake. A brand’s fiscal performance is closely linked to its public perception. Therefore, a poorly managed crisis can damage the trust of shareholders and severely impact profits. On the other hand, a well-handled crisis can help build and instill trust, positively affecting company growth. In the case of the Gatwick drone crisis, Easy Jet reported losses of £15 million. This was due to a combination of both ‘customer welfare costs’ and flight cancellation fees. Businesses must move with caution. These initial costs can escalate if communications are handled poorly and consumers begin to turn against the brand in question.
The power of reputation
On a macro scale, protecting brand reputation should be the highest strategic priority of a business. This stems from sustaining high levels of customer service, even during a crisis. In the case of Gatwick and the multitude of businesses impacted by the crisis, it was vital that all parties respond in a swift, seamless and simple manner. In doing so, each business could protect its reputation at the most critical times.
Using alternative data sets such as social media to secure real-time insights, is how forward thinking organisations are effectively steering their brand through crises. By understanding the opinions, cares and concerns of their customers, they can help to provide the information that is necessary. By ensuring all voices are heard, businesses can implement new processes, or shore up existing processes that ultimately enhance the customer experience.
This article features in the March 2019 issue of ITIJ.