When are we boarding?

This week I’m going to talk about airlines (again). Over the holidays we have seen both Qantas and Virgin Blue check-in systems come unstuck (for different reasons), Qantas union action and I am sure any number of other delays and glitches that are part- and-parcel of running a complex network of people, machinery and technology.

Things will always go wrong and for the most part it is a waste of time getting hot under the collar at the airlines for these issues when they happen – much is beyond their immediate control (what they could be doing to prevent them in the first place is a whole other issue).

What is under their control is how they respond to the problems when they arise. And on this front there seems to be precious little learning from the errors of the past going on.

In today’s environment of multiple communication channels there is really no excuse for not communicating with customers about issues as they are happening. The vast majority of frustration is not about the problem but about the lack of information getting out about the problem and what they are doing at the time to remedy it.

Jet Blue in the US uses Twitter to let flyers know about delays and issues in real time – chances are there will be one or two people on any flight that are monitoring their Twitter account and could spread the word around. A quick look at Virgin Blue’s Twitter account shows a smattering of fare deals and promotions and various inane travel commentary posts, but nothing about how flight status or any other issues. What a wasted opportunity to use this tool in a proactive rather then self-serving way.

Every passenger who books a ticket has to supply an email address and phone number for contact purposes. Well, how about an SMS to mobile carrying customers with updates or issues connected with their flight (does anyone not have a mobile with them when they travel these days?). Imagine the goodwill a “Flight on time, check-in taking 20 minutes” SMS would incur or better yet “Flight delayed one hour due to <insert issue here>”.

Now this may seem like a communications or customer service issue, rather than a brand issue, but as I’ve said before and I will keep saying, there is little any company does that is NOT a brand issue.

What aren’t you doing that you could make your brand more visible and helpful?

Happy 2010 everyone and see you next week.

Michel Hogan is a Brand Advocate. Through her work with Brandology here in Australia and in the United States, she helps organisations recognise who they are and align that with what they do and say, to build more authentic and sustainable brands. She also publishes the Brand thought leadership blog – Brand Alignment.

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