After a two-week strike by pilots that left both passengers and crew on the tarmac, Air France KLM is fighting hard to regain lost ground. But in the long haul, it will take more than a letter of apology to win back customers
I’ve been flying between France and Canada for over twenty years. We usually travel back to Toronto at least once a year to visit family and friends. Several years ago we decided not to fly Air France anymore – it’s just too risky.
I’m not talking about safety – although the article in the October 2014 edition of Vanity Fair on the ill-fated flight from Rio to Paris isn’t exactly reassuring. The fact is Air France is just as safe as any of the world’s major airlines. And statistically, air travel is still the safest form of transportation.
It’s the risk of a strike that holds us back. Especially as we often travel around Christmas or during the summer holidays: prime strike season in France. And we are not alone in avoiding the national airline, especially since the latest round of cancellations.
It’s one thing to lose your luggage, even keep you waiting. Passengers are fairly understanding of delays caused by technical problems. It’s all in how it’s handled. And that almost always comes down to communication.
Communication could have gone a long way to save Air France recent losses to its brand and its business. But customer loyalty, once lost, is tough ground to win back. To be fair, the company is doing its level best to restore lost faith and satisfy rankled passengers inconvenienced by two weeks of strike action. But their efforts call to mind the proverbial shutting of the barn door after the horse has bolted.
Communication as damage control can only do so much. Certainly a letter of apology is warranted. Yes, it’s better than nothing. But the best strategy? Don’t let the strike happen in the first place.
The French are very good at handling difficult situations and resolving technical problems, even in a crisis. They are not so good at communicating. And as this excellent article in Forbes points out, there’s only one thing better than crisis communication:
“The company showed a deft hand in crisis communication during the strike, but its brand value has taken a big hit and some investment in forward planning would have paid off. There is only one thing better than good crisis communication and that is communication to avoid a crisis.”
Customer care is all about listening. And that applies not just to customers but to all stakeholders – from employees to shareholders. Top management has to keep its finger on the pulse of the people it serves. That means understanding their needs and responding to them before they reach crisis point.
Let’s just hope this is a lesson that Air France and others will take to heart.