Getting PR on the right track - Guy Cookson on how technology can support brilliant customer service

When things go wrong we have all become accustomed to the corporate brush-off.

Missing parcels. Slow broadband. Cancelled trains. It is always the same routine. “Sorry,” the corporation drones. “For any inconvenience.”

Explanations, if ever provided, are usually free of empathy or useful information.

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So it was refreshing to see Network Rail in Kent and Sussex took a very different approach following a major technical failure last month.

Rather than offer vague platitudes, the agency opted to provide a detailed technical explanation of exactly what went wrong and how they fixed it. And best of all, this was delivered with genuine empathy for their customers.

“Yesterday, passengers endured an awful evening after we lost the ability to run trains on the busiest part of our network for over an hour,” the first post on Twitter began.

Over the course of 13 more tweets, many of which included useful diagrams and photographs, a picture emerged of just how tricky the issue was to resolve, and how much work took place to achieve it.

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Rather than reply with howls of frustration, passengers tweeted back their appreciation for the transparency.

“Thank you for the explanation. It was horrendous but at least we have insight into the situation you were dealing with,” wrote one.

“It’s good to see this transparency and empathy towards the travellers affected,” wrote another. “Network Rail has many committed and professional staff - and it’s good that it is not hidden by officious and seemingly insincere apologies. Well done.”

“This is brilliant,” wrote a third. “Thank you for absolutely steamrollering other ‘apologies for any inconvenience caused’ statements into the floor with this very thorough and clearly genuine response which treats us like we actually have brains - this sets a whole new bar.”

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This is a masterclass in how to handle a bad situation with finesse. It offers a glimpse at how technology - in this case Twitter - can support brilliant customer service and PR when communication teams are empowered to tell the truth and be human.