Living on the L train route in Brooklyn has made me no stranger to rush-hour delays and cancellations. This morning, my ire was even captured on camera and featured on gothamist.com. (That’s me in the bottom-left corner, plotting my escape.)
That picture was taken shortly after a train had vomited hundreds of passengers onto our platform before being taken out of service. But for me, the (very sour) cherry on top was when, moments later, an automated message rang out over the station speakers:
‘Thank you for travelling with MTA.’
Needless to say, it didn’t lighten the mood.
A transport #fail might seem trivial compared to some of the genuine disasters that many companies face. But MTA’s handling of the situation shares many characteristics of crisis communications gone wrong.
Here are four lessons inspired by this morning’s drama.
1. The wrong message at the wrong time will only make people angrier
Two thoughts went through my mind when that robot lady’s voice came over the speaker:
1) Yeah, right. Thanks to MTA, I’m not travelling anywhere.
2) Why the hell are they thanking me when they should be apologising? That last point is crucial. Even if it’s not your fault, acknowledge that people aren’t happy, and say you’re sorry.
2. If you don’t give the whole story, people will make up their own
When I asked a fellow commuter what was going on, she said she’d heard that ‘something’s gone wrong in the tunnel’. And that’s all she knew. Something’s gone wrong? Like what? A suicide? A terrorist attack? A rat on the track? A suicidal terrorist rat on the track? At least two of those options went through my mind.
3. When you do explain yourself, use language that people can understand
What the hell is a ‘rail condition’? Is it terminal? Or is it more like morning sickness, seeing as we’ve had two rush-hour ‘rail conditions’ in a row?
4. Keep people informed
Basically, all I want to know is: Will I get to work tomorrow? I guess we’ll find out in the morning, because MTA isn’t telling.
You’re at a networking event, and you ask someone where they work.
‘Dead Red Design.’
‘What do you do?’
‘We help companies increase their brand awareness, and their brand value, through better graphic and product design.’
We all get this question. At dinner parties. In airplanes. On first dates.
For some of us, particularly those of us in the service sector, it can be hard to answer.
Hell, it can even be tough for entire companies to pin down what they do in one succinct blurb. Clients ask us to develop their ‘elevator pitches’ all the time.
The main issue is usually that we all do a little bit of a lot of things. People and companies. It’s hard to boil it all down without leaving some important parts out.
If you can come up with a compelling, comprehensive elevator pitch for your company, or for yourself, that’s excellent. But a generic, watered-down answer or pitch won’t make much of an impression on your questioner. Or potential customer. It might even leave you feeling a little blah about your own work.
So instead of describing your job, tell a story. Tell the story of your favourite project. The story of Last Tuesday at Work.
And if you’re a company, tell the story of your best-selling product, or a time you really helped a client turn it all around. Or maybe the story of how your company was founded. The need it was supposed to fill.
True, you might not get every important aspect of your work across. But a few memorable points are better than leaving people with a generic, mushy account of what you do.
Back at that networking event, you ask someone else about their job.
‘Where do you work?’
‘What do you do?’
‘Well, last week we got a call from a local supermarket chain. Their profits have been shrinking over the past couple of years. They wanted us to take a look at their entire business, see where they could save. We noticed some little things that were adding up to cause trouble for them: their beef supplier was charging them more than the industry standard; old equipment was driving their electric bill higher than it should have been. We put together a report that laid it all out for them. Then we helped them decide which areas they could attack immediately, and which would have to wait. Now we’ll watch their profits with them. If they go up, we’ll know we did a good job.’
Who would you remember? Who would you want to buy from or work with?
Or the guy who helped that supermarket save all that money, by doing all those things? Who gave you something to really think about, if only for a minute or two?
Granted, most of us aren’t firefighters saving people and pets from burning buildings. But we still have stories to tell. And a story always trumps an abstraction.
‘Customers will never love a company until its employees love it first.’
A bold statement, and one of several snippets of wisdom I heard at the Advanced Learning Institute’s recent Strategic Internal Communications conference in San Francisco.
Here are five more:
1. Your employees are your brand.
Your reputation is in their hands. And yet, internal communications are only given a fraction of the budget and attention of external communications. What’s up with that?
2. An employee who’s stopped caring can cost you dearly
In the USA, companies lose an estimated $350 billion in productivity every year because of unhappy employees. And around 68 per cent of customers take their business elsewhere because of bad or indifferent service.
3. Language matters
Almost all the speakers, whatever their specialist topic, stressed the importance of speaking to your people like, you know, people. Be honest and straightforward in your internal communications, using language everyone can understand and relate to, even when it’s bad news.
4. So does storytelling
‘Storytelling’ might have become a marketing buzzword, but there’s science behind its effectiveness. So why limit it to your big, flashy external campaigns? At Intel, there’s a team doing ‘internal content marketing’, which means they find and write stories that make people proud to be part of the company. And The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago has based an entire internal campaign on employees’ personal stories, making its own people not just fans but also cheerleaders.
5. And don’t forget employee-to-employee communications
When we hear ‘internal communications’, most of us probably think of those emails, posters and policies where it’s the employer speaking to the people. But how employees write to each other is important too. Change that, and you could see a change in your entire culture.
Hey, everyone else seems to be posting lame 50 Shades content. Why aren’t we? You’ve got 50 seconds! – Editor
50 Shades of Corporate Writing
You’ll admire this blog post.
You’ll adore this blog post.
You’ll applaud this blog post.
You’ll appreciate this blog post.
You’ll be amused by this blog post.
You’ll be content with this blog post.
You’ll be fond of this blog post.
You’ll be infatuated with this blog post.
You’ll be into this blog post.
You’ll be mad for this blog post.
You’ll be partial toward this blog post.
You’ll be pleased by this blog post.
You’ll be thrilled by this blog post.
You’ll cherish this blog post.
You’ll cotton to this blog post.
You’ll delight in this blog post.
You’ll dig this blog post.
You’ll dote on this blog post.
You’ll drink in this blog post.
You’ll eat up this blog post.
You’ll enjoy this blog post.
You’ll esteem this blog post.
You’ll fall for this blog post.
You’ll fancy this blog post.
You’ll feel rapturous about this blog post.
You’ll feel sentimental about this blog post.
You’ll feel tenderly toward this blog post.
You’ll feel zealous about this blog post.
You’ll flip over this blog post.
You’ll get this blog post.
You’ll get a charge out of this blog post.
You’ll get a kick out of this blog post.
You’ll get behind this blog post.
You’ll groove on this blog post.
You’ll have a ball with this blog post.
You’ll have a crush on this blog post.
You’ll have a soft spot for this blog post.
You’ll have kind regard for this blog post.
You’ll have some affection for this blog post.
You’ll like this blog post.
You’ll love this blog post.
You’ll prize this blog post.
You’ll rejoice in this blog post.
You’ll relish this blog post.
You’ll respect this blog post.
You’ll revel in this blog post.
You’ll savour this blog post.
You’ll take joy in this blog post.
You’ll treasure this blog post.
You’ll worship this blog post.
There are probably 50 shades of meaning behind virtually any corporate memo.
Wouldn’t it be nice if writers would choose the one that they really mean, with words that make it obvious, instead of using words like ‘synergy’?
In fact, we should axe that word.
Send it to the woodshed…
(That’s enough – Ed.)
I spoke at a conference about customer experience the other week, and, like most conferences I go to, I heard a few brilliant thoughts that really got me thinking. But let’s not talk about those.
Let’s talk about the drivel that most people produce. If you’re presenting at one of these conferences, here are five things to think about to stop your audience sticking pins in their eyes by the mid-afternoon break.
1. Don’t write everything you’re going to say on your PowerPoint slides
Surely everyone knows this one by now. It’s in every presentation course.
What happens? I read your incredibly dense slide in 30 seconds. Then I stop listening for the next five minutes and check my email, while you say the same thing – only in even more words.
2. Say things that mean something
There really are lots of presenters who are fluent but say nothing of consequence:
Creativity empowers us to innovate for tomorrow and not just today.
3. Pretty charts don’t make something smart
There was one beautifully designed slide that said:
Knowledge = understanding what will happen
Intelligence = understanding what will happen next
The difference being...? The presenter read this out like it was a tremendous insight.
4. For the organisers: it’s not 1846
So why are we having a networking luncheon?
5. Repeating things doesn’t make you Obama
We all know a bit of judicious repetition can make your talk more memorable. But there’s a weird trend to repeat long, ugly sentences in the hope that they’ll become more profound:
Simplifying things is incredibly complex but absolutely necessary.
Simplifying things is incredibly complex but absolutely necessary.
Enough already. (Maybe time for a little holiday, Neil? – Editor)