Airport gate communication is a great example of how in-person communication can learn from Twitter. Airlines (and all of us in customer service) should take a “Twiiter frantic” approach to communications - once every 5 minutes, whether or not there is much to report. It’s a fantastic mental model for any situation in which people are waiting and the only source of information is localized.
Here is the example I lived through. I was awaiting the departure of Delta flight due to depart at 9:15am. Those of us who were seasoned travelers knew that our lack of boarding by 8:50 was a bad sign – but no communication was made until 9:05. By then even the novices knew we were in trouble.
The communication itself was a mess. Paraphrased, here it was:
“We have decided to refuse this aircraft. The lavs do not work and the crew has to fly to Vancouver and back to Detroit and this is too long a trip to make without the lavs working. We are searching for another aircraft. We don’t know when we’ll find one. If the delay becomes too prolonged we’ll issue meal vouchers. But if you use the meal voucher – or if you want to go to a restaurant now – you won’t be able to hear any updates on our status so you should go get your food and bring it back here.”
This post is not about rewriting that message, but it must be stated that “refuse” and “lav” are less than passenger friendly phrases and talking about the poor crew who can’t fly without restrooms instead of the poor paying customers who shouldn’t have to fly without restrooms is offensive.
9:05 was that communication. The next one was not until 9:31.
If that gate agent had been a trained Twitter person, there would have been a streaming “chat screen” up at the gate with postings like
9:15 still no news hang in there!
9:20 we are still looking for another plane check back in 5.
These of course would have been supplemented with announcements since some passengers might be visually impaired, but the last update would stay on the screen until bumped by a new one.
We eventually got guided across MSP to a new gate, thundered onto the plane at 10am only to wait to depart until 11am because the fueling truck was AWOL During that hour the Captain made only 3 announcements. Add Captains to the training list.
Your takeaway: in customer service situations where information is vital and particularly that people are waiting and information is controlled, your motto is:
Every 5 minutes you provide visual and auditory updates even if no new news is included. Insure that the visual update can be seen from a central location. Set up Twitter feeds by gate – something like #MSPgateG12 or by information stream – whatever makes sense to your situation.
Provide brief and clear information, do not speculate, and gentle support like “hang in there” is always appropriate.
Social media is a wonderful training ground for how we can communication better.