Communication: Why is it a low priority for big brands?

Communication: Why is it a low priority for big brands?

This past weekend, I had a very frustrating situation involving an airline who is known for their poor service, however I thought I’d give them a “fair go”.

I headed to the airport, looking forward to going home, and 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 was at the airport in plenty of time, but there I was, with a hundred or so others, waiting…waiting…

The whispers began. ’Is the flight cancelled? Is there a delay? What’s going on?

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 the new plan was, etc. Or perhaps a text on the way to the airport so we could have turned the car around, saved half a day and booked a new flight.

But there was nothing.

We all stood in wonderment, some people Googling new flights, one person yelling from queue to counter, “Excuse me…what’s going on? Can someone give us some information so we know what to do here?

One-by-one, each person got to the front of the line and dealt with check-in. One-by-one, each person announced, “I am never EVER flying with this airline again.”

As a recruiter exclusively recruiting PR & Communications roles, I know the importance of the communications piece. The airline cannot control the fact that the plane had mechanical issues. But they absolutely COULD have communicated.

So when I got to the counter, I turned to the people in the queue and announced what was happening, and what the 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 COMMUNICATED?!?!

Every person on that flight, and every subsequent person I spoke to about this airline echoed the lack of communication piece as a primary source of irritation, and swore that not only were they the worst airline, but that they would never fly them again. And, most dangerous to this brand of all, that they would be sure to echo their sentiments on every social media platform possible.

So who needs communications? EVERYONE. Every company; every human being. Whether it’s communicating with your partner to make the relationship stronger, or serving staff communicating to a hungry table of people why their food is taking so long, or a company about to make mass layoffs carefully planning how to communicate to their staff gently and effectively to make it easier for people to figure out their next steps – communication is essential. And when it’s ignored, there are consequences.

A lot of companies don’t understand the communications function, the importance of it and what it actually is. It’s often confused with pure marketing, but there is a myriad of other areas it covers that are not just tied to marketing the business. And when companies cut budgets and marketing and communications are the first to go, they are often signing their own death certificate.

The simple fact at the end of the day is that knowledge is power — power to make decisions, to figure out next steps, to keep a calm head — something that is difficult to do without knowing the facts first. And the best way to know all the facts 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.

More reading: 

The role of social media in crisis communications
How do you deal with change in the workplace?
10 rules of communication for leaders
Brands have nowhere to hide


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