“We apologise for any inconvenience caused.” Six words which can herald unbridled gloom in any commuter, holidaymaker or public transport taker – and a phrase with which many of us will be only too familiar during the recent ‘Mediterranean Melt’ and summer of strikes.
I began to ponder these words while waiting on a platform for a train that was significantly delayed. Aside from the usual frustration I felt at the announcer’s implication that a 30-minute delay might not cause me inconvenience, I also began to think about these stock phrases and how they seem so worn and distant from the original meaning they were meant to convey.
When issues arise companies rely on standard lines far too much. They can come across as cold and empty, likely to anger disgruntled customers further, instead of striking the conciliatory tone they were no doubt intended to make.
When problems hit in this way (as inevitably they do in mass transport), a business’ communications approach might help them to rebuild customer relationships. Allowing for a more human response and adapting it to each situation can go a long way to showing that a company genuinely cares and ultimately increase levels of trust.
It’s an approach that can also reap results in the context of more day-to-day operations, not just in negative situations. Air New Zealand is one example of a company that has used humour and flair in its communications to reinvigorate stale lines while also building its brand identity. Never before has the addition of orcs and hobbits made me so keen to pay attention to an air safety video. The film has now garnered over 19 million views on YouTube.
Those of us working and living in the capital will also have heard the announcers on Tube platforms being more creative with their updates. The key information is still conveyed but welcoming people to Tottenham Court Road with an audible smile and a joke is a much more powerful way of engaging customers than trotting out a staid robotic line. It builds a sense of connection and warmth towards the London Underground brand, giving it a human voice, while also making travellers more likely to heed that warning to mind the gap.
It’s easy for companies to fall back on clichés, but allowing room for more personality in their communications can help businesses both to recover when the worst happens and build long-term loyalty with their customers. In a world where AI is being increasingly lauded as the next big thing in customer service, this personal touch could be what sets brands of the future apart. It sounds simple but as communications professionals we should never underestimate the power of a friendly human face or voice.
Stephanie Byrne is an account manager at Camargue