Consistency in crisis communication… is that possible?
Last Sunday, I flew from Zurich to Paris where I was supposed to take the train at the Montparnasse station to visit my family, in Niort. Leaving at 10.00 from home, I was expecting to arrive around 17.30, just in time for tea and cake. Well, I arrived at 9.45 am the following day, almost 24 hours after!
When I left home by train to go to the airport, my concern was about the flight being on time. Trains in Switzerland are never the issue. My flight was delayed. The information was communicated quickly (15 mn) and efficiently. The pilot confirmed we would arrive on time and we did.
After landing, I received a text from the moto taxi company confirming the driver was waiting for me, as planned. Everything went smoothly up to that point - but when I entered the train station, I ended up in a complete chaos: Montparnasse was shut down for technical reasons and no trains were going in or out that day. Nothing was displayed on the boards. There was just a roll-up banner, saying there was no train that day, until 1.00am.
As a marketing professional, I thought that was weird: How do they have time to print a banner instead of using the screens and deliver the message digitally? It was all wrong from my standpoint in terms of costs, visibility, update capabilities, etc. Checking my phone, I saw an email informing me that I should postpone my trip. It arrived too late, and on the wrong channel: I do read text messages but I don’t check my gmail account while traveling on Sundays. No communication preference management… The SNCF was using the data I entered when I booked my ticket online, which is good, but a few additional questions about preferred communication channels would have taken 2 extra minutes to answer, and would have given me the option to get the message and to take action on time.
I had to queue twice: once to change the booking, and another time to get a hotel room. It took me 1.5 hours to get a refund. Eventually, as it was so cold and crowded, I gave up and booked a room myself, with the risk of not getting a refund. Some people I met were also concerned about the costs as they were informed by agents that hotels were not taken in charge. Again, inconsistent communication and wrong channels: why didn’t we get a text message?
The next morning, my train was delayed again but I did finally arrive home. With my CX hat on, these 24 hours were interesting. I was impressed by the calm demeanor of the agents - obviously not well informed – who had to deal with thousands of angry customers. But I couldn’t stop thinking how much easier their jobs might have been if the communications system had been more automated and more multi-channel enabled. A successful CX starts with how enterprises communicate internally and empower their agents to satisfy customers, in these “moments of truth”.
Using the right channel is key to inform customers and agents and maintain a desired level of service. Everyone can understand that technical problems happen, but people want to be informed in a timely manner and get clear instructions. With all the channels available to communicate with customers, this weekend was an excellent example of a missed opportunity to turn difficult moments into positive experiences - and avoid the flow of angry and bitter social media updates that were being posted all around me. In 2020, the rail passenger transport market (TGV) will be fully open to competition. It will be interesting to see how the incumbent will deal with its challengers which will run on the latest technologies to win the customer experience battle.