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Effective communication is the secret to a happy and healthy relationship between travel agents and their travellers… especially when things go wrong.

Travel agents have all had the dreaded phone call: the client has arrived at the airport for a departing flight, only to find that their flight has been cancelled or delayed. This situation can lead to frustration and anger. But, with effective communication, any disruption can be handled quickly and efficiently.

In Amadeus’ latest whitepaper, Shaping the future of Airline Disruption Management (IROPS), Bill McFarlan, Managing Director of Pink Elephant Communications explores the rules airlines should handle for communication during disruption. Some of these rules are equally helpful to agents dealing with disruption:

1. Establish the facts

Get the facts about what happened and decide who needs to know them.

2. Separate public from private information

There are always things companies can share, and information we must hold back – whether that’s because it’s market-sensitive or security-sensitive. However, keep in mind that what we say must be truthful and accurate.

3. Say what you can as fully and as soon as you possibly can

A lot of organisations are afraid to share information in case they say the wrong thing. However, the companies that are proactive in telling what they know immediately are the companies that start to win back trust.

4. Always lead with what’s most important to each audience

Define what’s important for your clients to know. How are they going to be affected, and how is their problem going to be solved.

5. Say sorry

Some corporate lawyers say that saying sorry means admitting liability. What we’re actually doing is empathising with people. The repercussions will come if we fail to say sorry.

6. Be optimistic

Avoid making negative assumptions; this will only lead to frustrations. Instead say, “We’ve yet to establish why the plane is being delayed. As soon as we know what is going to happen, we will let you know.” By staying optimistic, we help people to look for the possibility of positive solutions

7. Avoid watering down words

Don’t use words like “hopefully” and phrases such as “we’re doing our best”. The words passengers want to hear are ones that convey certainty: “We’re committed to getting you at the earliest possible opportunity to the airport.” “

8. Update regularly and manage expectations about progress

Having a team of people who are constantly checking that the correct information is being passed on through the correct channels is essential. It’s important to keep on telling people what you do know, and keep updating them with the latest information, remaining calm, friendly and apologetic.