The importance of communication in a crisis

Now it’s Christmas Eve I feel calm enough to write about the travel chaos experienced earlier in the week…

Birmingham New Street made the BBC national news because of how appalling the services were- trains were cancelled due to the heavy snow and freezing conditions we’d been having, but for me the headache wasn’t about the lack of services, it was about the lack of information.

I knew from an ‘insider’ that many of the trains were being cancelled at New Street on Monday (20th Dec 2010) and didn’t know how I was going to get back home from where I work in the city centre. I didn’t fancy getting a bus and with no other option decided to walk to the station and chance it.

It was obvious from the chaos in the entrance at Victoria Square that trains to just about everywhere were cancelled or facing major delays but the information boards were still showing signs of hope for some services.  I asked a staff member what was running and what wasn’t and he didn’t have a clue.  He also didn’t seem to care about the situation. 

Basic rules of marketing: your people are your brand- they represent your organisation and should embody your corporate values. Talking to this man was NOT a good start to my experience.

I proceeded down to my platform where there were further staff members with no information.  The message boardsPhone were hours out of date and the announcements were so quiet that passengers couldn’t hear what was being said. 

Basic rules of crisis management: give information, information, information. People want to know what is going on, and even if a situation hasn’t progressed, people want to know where they stand.

After about 20 minutes I saw a heard of people running down my usual platform.  I joined the crowd even though I wasn’t sure where we were headed!  We got on a train that was so full, strangers were practically hugging each other.  The doors shut and we stood on the train for 20 minutes without a word from the driver and uncertainty about whether we were actually going anywhere. 

We finally moved and I got home safe. Would it really have been that difficult for some internal briefings to have taken place to that if staff were asked a question they could answer it, or at least show some sympathy?  And what about the announcements and the information boards? Surely they could have been kept up to date with timely messages.

The moral of the story, other than not to travel by train in the snow, if your organisation is faced with a similar issue, make sure your communications are often, correct and in the right place!

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