Yesterday I was on my daily commute to the city centre when the train broke down outside Birmingham University.
It was pretty obvious something was going wrong and soon enough the driver’s voice appeared over the loud speaker with a reassuring update on what was happening.
A few moments later the driver spoke to us again but this time used some humour to make light of the situation. He said: “For some reason the brakes won’t release. I’ve phoned maintenance and they’ve recommended I give the box a good kicking but that didn’t seem to work so I’ll keep you updated”.
This made passengers laugh which is pretty unusual in these circumstances as normally (and I’ve been in this situation before!), people start getting irate quite quickly.
After a few more minutes the driver said: “You’ll be pleased to know that a maintenance engineer is on his way on a train coming from the opposite direction. However that train is delayed as well. So I have no idea how long we’ll be here but help is on the way”.
At this point, after considering the irony of his statement, I got off the train and decided to walk.
So this wasn’t really a ‘crisis’ per se but the way it was handled made me think about the principles of communication when we are faced with a crisis.
The key is to communicate quickly, regularly and honestly. Humour, if appropriate, can help but remember that not everyone will appreciate it. You should provide enough information to enable your customers to make decisions about their next course of action like in this example where I was confident in my choice to get off the train.
How a company manages a crisis can make or break its reputation. Here is a useful link to the Guardian online if you wanted to read more.