I found myself heading to Prince George last week in order to deliver a workplace violence prevention workshop for an organization.
I had spent the day delivering back to back workshops for a company, with the final workshop of the day finishing at 4:30 PM. At that time, I had to point my car south from North Vancouver and aim towards Vancouver Airport in order to catch the evening flight to Prince George, scheduled to leave at 7:30 PM.
For the last several days, the Vancouver area had been experiencing a temperature inversion that had caused a few issues regarding visibility, but on that day the sun was streaming in through the windows— silly me for assuming visibility would not be an issue! Hindsight…(no pun intended).
I navigated the rush hour traffic successfully, arriving at the airport at 6 PM. Lots of time.
So, imagine my surprise when I received my boarding pass and the Air Canada staff member casually mentioned that she felt confident my 7:30 PM flight would be off the ground by 10 PM!
My distraught and confused face must’ve said it all, so she explained that earlier in the afternoon a bank of fog, encouraged by the temperature inversion, had temporarily enveloped the airport for about three hours. The impact of this had a significant effect on just about every arrival and departure scheduled that afternoon. Being in workshops all day, I guess I missed this news story.
Well, there was nothing I could do, so I proceeded through the usual security inspections and wandered down to the departure lounge to enjoy a more leisurely meal than I had originally thought possible.
As I made myself comfortable in the departure area near my gate, I realized I was surrounded by hundreds of other passengers who all faced similar, if not longer, delays.
And as luck would have it, my flight was further delayed until almost midnight (in case you’re doing the math, that’s some five hours after I was originally scheduled to commence boarding).
So why am I telling you this story, you may be wondering?
Well, one of the elements that we share within our conflict resolution steps during our workplace violence prevention training, is the importance of providing people with information.
Here’s why it’s important:
When a customer or client, using the services of an organization, experiences an unexpected situation, there is the potential for that customer or client to become frustrated and even upset.
To bring it back around to my airport adventure, let’s pretend we’re talking about a passenger who is, oh I don’t know, taking a flight to Prince George from Vancouver and the plane is delayed by five hours.
It wasn’t going to be the end of the world if I couldn’t get to Prince George that evening. It would’ve been inconvenient and yes, my client would have been disappointed, but no one was going to die. But every other passenger sitting in that same departure lounge had a unique reason for being there. Perhaps to some of them, the consequences of not getting to Prince George that evening would have been much more significant than mine.
And now is where we come to the importance of sharing information.
In our workshops, we remind our participants that one of the things that they (as an employee who would likely possess more information about the situation than the customer or client) can do is to share as much of that information as they are able to in order to keep the customer or client informed. This in turn demonstrates to the customer or client that you understand their frustration and are empathizing with them as much as you can.
The opposite of this would be for the employee to shrug their shoulders and tell people, “I don’t know anymore than you do. Now please sit back down.”
Luckily for me and all of the other delayed passengers, the Air Canada team did not just shrug their shoulders in that departure lounge.
In fact, every few minutes there was a fresh announcement, with a different voice, sharing with each of the groups sitting at different departure gates, the latest information regarding where their plane was coming from, where the flight crew was coming from, and how long it was estimated to be before everyone’s flights were able to leave for their scheduled destination.
Having never worked at any airline, I could only imagine the impact that three hours of fog could have on the scheduling of arriving and departing aircraft. Furthermore, I had no idea the impact on the legal and union regulations regarding flight crews.
But our friendly PA announcers were like ducks on the pond—passengers only saw those serene employees gliding along the water, while the mad scrambling of the airport staff “underwater” acted as the legs kicking to stay afloat. In fact, they even shared this metaphor with us, which I believe to be an important strategy when trying to calm or defuse frustrated people—give us a glimpse into what you’re dealing with, and more often than not, frustrated customers will nod in empathy.
And if you’ll believe it, I was in that departure lounge for five hours and I never saw one passenger that looked or sounded like they were going to be a problem for the Air Canada staff members!
Perhaps the strategy that they employed that night was just part of some terrific customer service, but I believe it was done deliberately, knowing that they needed to go out of their way to let frustrated passengers know as much as they possibly could about when their particular situation was going to change.
And for that, I thank you, Air Canada.