I remember when I used to wait for a train on the London Underground as a student back in the Nineties. As with today, the announcer would inform the commuters of the lines that had disruptions on them within the Network. The District line was suspended or their was an electrical fault on the Central line. The information was crucial to journey planning. Then one day the messages changed. As well as being kept informed of the ‘problems’ on the line, the announcer started to tell us what was right with the Network. Announcements proclaiming that there was a good service on the Underground Network would punctuate the air. Someone, somewhere within the organisation realised that ALL the messages up to that point had been negative.
Whilst these negative messages were accurate and appreciated (especially if the line you planned to travel on was not affected) they didn’t instill much confidence. After all, if all you hear about something is that it doesn’t work, you begin to think it’s a bit crap. It did however instill a sense of trust. It meant that you could rely on the objectivity of the information even though you may have felt the network was crumbling before you.
Since then, London Transport has done even more to be transparent about their service. Drivers now keep us informed of the signaling issues whilst we wait between stations.
The original lesson learned by London Transport and subsequently by other brand managers is sometimes the driving force behind declaring the good aspects of ones organisation. It is important to instill confidence in what we do. That is, however, only part of the picture.
The lesson that must be remembered is that you can also instill trust by having the systems in place to alert your staff or customers of what is wrong. Not enough brand communications managers tell of what is wrong first. There are ’sandwich’ techniques for this where you place the negative message in between two positive ones.
I believe that to be a truly transparent brand you have to explain what is wrong sometimes even before you tell of what is right. That’s the kind of culture that will strive to be more customer focussed. That’s the kind of culture where trust is earned and confidence is built. That’s the kind of brand that can, on a good day, say ‘there is a good service on all lines’ and the message will be believed.