Crisis Management Insights from SimpliFlying Lab 2016

Two weeks ago SimpliFlying held its annual Airline Marketing Innovation Lab and Awards at the Business Design Centre in London. During the Lab’s roundtable session top airline marketers from around the world met to discuss key topics such as Crisis Management, Customer Service, Connectivity and Big Data.

As part of my Senior Consultant role with SimpliFlying, I was asked to moderate the Crisis Management table, where I had a chance to notice some interesting changes from previous years. The session had a subject matter expert from 15below, a leading provider of passenger communications for airlines. Five key points stood out:

  1. Cultural and linguistic challenges
  2. The contrast between approvals and the immediacy demanded by social media
  3. Communicating quickly with frontline staff
  4. Internal escalation and the need for resources in times of crises
  5. Problems finding passenger contact details for flights sold by third parties

The issue of speed

Speed is both a problem and a blessing in social media, especially during crises. On one hand, it is good because it allows for fast and efficient communication with the public and media. On the other, it creates a problem because any delay in the airline’s response reduces the effectiveness and relevance.

In our research, we have seen how proficient airlines are able to respond in less than 20 minutes and take control of the conversation. However, in the vast majority of cases, airlines struggle to achieve fast replies mainly due to approvals and notification issues.

Notifications delays are often caused by slow communications within the airline that fail to immediately alert communication teams. Approval delays tend to be related to strict protocols and the lack of pre-approved materials – these can slow down the response by several hours.

Another problem caused by the speed of social is that often customers will receive the information before the airline’s frontlines. As a result airline agents at gate and check-in are often caught off-guard when addressing complaints or when something unexpected happens.

Resources and escalation

The discussion around the resources took shape around two main problems: reaching the affected passengers and having enough staff to handle the increasing volume of incoming messages. One of the most compelling solutions was Brussels Airlines’ escalation strategy where staff from other departments joined the social media team in the aftermath of the Brussels terrorist attacks.

The problem of reaching the affected passengers proved to be a complex one as in many cases tickets are sold via third parties who are reluctant to hand over the information.

Cultural differences

Overall differences in cultural attitudes and communication styles were often mentioned, especially when airlines from different regions shared how they addressed similar challenges. One thing that seemed to interest the attendees was how airlines from other markets communicate with their local audiences.

This interest was, of course, not just a matter of curiosity but stemmed from a real challenge: the need during crises to communicate in markets where the airline does not have a presence and may, for example, only operate one seasonal flight per week.

The challenge, which is yet to be solved effectively, is that social media messages are visible to a broad, often global, audience but they are interpreted by each person according to their own culture.

What’s ahead

As we move forward all these challenges will persist and require ever faster and more flexible response strategies. For airlines, the challenge is to break out of their own “comfort zone” and learn how others have solved similar problems.

At SimpliFlying we will continue to host Labs to help airlines exchange ideas and post on this blog to share our perspective. Stay tuned for the results of our other roundtables that will be shared by my colleagues in the coming days.

Meanwhile, here’s a video compilation of the exciting time the participants had during the day.
Marco Serusi

Marco Serusi

Former Director of Consulting at SimpliFlying
Marco Serusi was Consultant at SimpliFlying from November 2011 to January 2019 and has worked on major client projects with the likes of LATAM Airlines, London Heathrow and Airbus. He has also delivered training in digital aviation strategy for hundreds of executives globally and spoken at several aviation conferences worldwide. He is well known for his cutting-edge research into crisis communications and social media trends.
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