There are actually three things that are certainties in life: death, taxes and computer malfunctions. Delta Air Lines had a harsh dose of technology reality in the middle of the night on Monday, August 8, when a computer outage grounded all of the airline’s flights. Many passengers were already on board their planes; others settled in for the night in airports.
We’ve all seen how badly this can turn out for a brand – whether the problem is your company’s fault or not, people are angry, plans are disrupted, and everyone affected wants someone to blame. Social media channels are instantly flooded with pictures and videos of all the misery. In the midst of all the chaos, never forget that most of your customers want one simple thing – a heartfelt apology. Not excuses, not empty promises – just “I know this is a terrible inconvenience, and I’m truly sorry.”
Understandably, in some cases apologies can be tricky, with lawyers waiting to pounce with class action suits at any admission of guilt or responsibility. In Delta’s case, this was a nonissue. By mid-morning, headlines had begun to turn from NBC News’ “Delta Cancels 400+ Flights” to CNN’s “Pizza, Beer Ease the Delta Pain.” The airline had reacted quickly and thoughtfully, bringing food on board for passengers, and offering food to those stranded in airports as well.
By midday, Delta had released a video of CEO Ed Bastian standing in the Delta operations and customer center. He looked straight into the camera, apologized to customers for the inconvenience several times, offered systemwide waivers for passengers, and thanked his team for the hard work they were doing to rectify the situation. It was brief, genuine and perfect.
Other than being prepared in advance for a crisis of this magnitude, the number one rule is to respond quickly and sincerely. When thousands are inconvenienced due to your product’s deficiency, with weddings delayed and vacations deferred, we want to know you feel our pain, and we want it to be the top executive looking as miserable as we are.
Hats off to Delta for a crisis communications job well done.