Richard Branson's gift to LIAT

NERISSA GOLDEN
Last updated 09:14 09/07/2013

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OPINION: As someone that grew up flying on the Caribbean airline LIAT, I hesitantly clicked that now famous link to Richard Branson's tweet to find out what an irate passenger had to say about them.

While quite funny, the letter, which you can read in full below, highlighted some now familiar experiences that many have had or heard tales about.

It is the reason the airline's acronym has come to mean many things such as Late If A'Tall (in Antiguan vernacular); Leave Island Any Time; or Luggage in Another Terminal.

However, LIAT is not the first and won't be the only airline to ever get bad press. In fact, the story stemmed from the fact that Branson has had a negative letter about his own airline's cuisine in the past.

We don't usually like getting negative feedback but even negative feedback can be good. In fact, customer feedback should be viewed as your friend.

In support of continuous improvement, feedback gives you evidence of what you are doing wrong or doing right.

In a world where the bad is celebrated in the same or in greater proportion to the good, a situation such as this could possibly be the gift you need to push your business to the next level.

In this molten world of social media, you also don't have days and weeks to go out and create a marketing strategy to combat negative press.

You've got to move and respond in a way that says you are listening to your customers and are always ready to provide a solution to the problem.

Read the letter here and then further on to ways you turn bad press to good use for your business.

As promised; the letter in full from Arthur Hicks:

Dear LIAT,

May I say how considerate it is of you to enable your passengers such an in-depth and thorough tour of the Caribbean.

Most other airlines I have travelled on would simply wish to take me from point A to B in rather a hurry. I was intrigued that we were allowed to stop at not a lowly one or two but a magnificent six airports yesterday. And who wants to fly on the same airplane the entire time? We got to change and refuel every step of the way!

I particularly enjoyed sampling the security scanners at each and every airport. I find it preposterous that people imagine them all to be the same. And as for being patted down by a variety of islanders, well, I feel as if I've been hugged by most of the Caribbean already.

I also found it unique that this was all done on "island time," because I do like to have time to absorb the atmosphere of the various departure lounges. As for our arrival, well, who wants to have to take a ferry at the end of all that flying anyway? I'm glad the boat was long gone by the time we arrived into Tortola last night - and that all those noisy bars and restaurants were closed.

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So thank you, LIAT. I now truly understand why you are "The Caribbean Airline."

P.S. Keep the bag. I never liked it anyway.

Hmm, hurts just reading it...

Here are some six ways you can turn bad press to good use for your business:

1. Acknowledge the complaint. This particular letter was printed in April and we don't know if it was ever acknowledged by the airline. Responding kindly to a letter from an unhappy customer sends the message that they were heard and they are important to you. Whether it was posted on your social media account, to a newspaper or directly to your company, let that customer know that you received it and if possible what steps you are taking to rectify the issue they raised.

2. Mine your complaints and bad press for gold. If you find a recurring theme in the messages you receive about your company's service, then it is time to do something to improve it. To continue to ignore highlighted issues leaves room for more tweets and viral letters such as this and most definitely to the loss of valuable customers.

This irate customer managed to touch just about every major issue that the airline has been known for over the years. For the Caribbean people in my social media circle, it was both the sense of shame that it had been made public in such a massive way, but there was also total understanding as it has become an expected experience for anyone choosing to travel on the airline. Review your customer service policy, rates, products, whatever is the critical focus, find ways to improve it and let people know when you do.

3. Talk back publically. The message was made public so you do the same. This is not the time to ignore or be offended. Certainly do not go on the defensive about the negative stories. Now that it's been shared millions of times, people want to know what you plan to do to rectify it. Respond to queries posted on your social media pages, and if a press conference is an option, organise one which can help you clear up a negative issue and clarify any erroneous information published.

4. Make an offer to your now expanded audience. Now, at the start of the long school break, many are deciding whether to make that trip to a neighbouring island. This is a great opportunity for the airline to celebrate those 21 Caribbean destinations that many of the rewritten articles pointed to. This story was shared the world over and many may have never been to the Caribbean; what a great time to introduce them to the islands and the positive experiences they can have here. No matter your business, you can make an offer to your clients to show them you know they are listening and watching and you are prepared to be the solution and not the problem.

5. Get satisfied customers to talk about your company. Social media allows you to hear directly from the people using your service. This is now a preferred source that other people check to find out if your product is worth it. Before purchasing a product, I always check what other customers are saying and how they rate a book, a new set of pots or electronics. Create spaces for your happy customers to talk back to you and then share those positive words and images with your audience. Happy customers willing to tell their story are worth more than full-paged ads and flashy commercials.

6. When in doubt, get help. Maybe all of this has been overwhelming for you and you are also not comfortable with the press, a public relations firm or brand management specialist can assist you in turning a negative story into a golden opportunity.

- MCT

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