A well-known line from the film Cool Hand Luke, starring Paul Newman, could be used to describe the recent Southwest Airlines meltdown: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” The quote is famous because it encapsulates the film’s theme, which is the inability of two sides to understand each other’s struggles.

(Photo: Credit: olm26250 / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images)

(Photo: Credit: olm26250 / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images)

Thousands of travelers were stranded for days because Southwest failed to reveal the true nature of their overburdened systems. If Southwest had taken swift action to proactively communicate the problem, it could have salvaged customer goodwill, because seats were available with other carriers. Instead, it rebooked travelers, only to cancel their flights again and again.

Few companies dedicate sufficient resources to planning for inevitable scenarios. Make this the year to embrace the fact that hope is not a strategy. Sooner or later, what can happen will, and having communication plans ready will make for better outcomes.

A few scenarios landscaping companies should develop plans for include:

  • Deescalating situations with angry customers
  • Clarifying inaccurate assumptions about the company
  • Detailing the crucial steps to take with vehicle accidents
  • What to say when your company gets anything wrong

Planning plays a role

People who seem to have a gift for communicating are often that way because they have planned and practiced their words in advance. That dress rehearsal doesn’t guarantee favorable outcomes, but it increases the possibility.

Responding to vehicular accidents was a training session my company trained for every six months. We prepared a step-by-step booklet that detailed exactly what to do and what not to do.

Those booklets, which were in Spanish and English, were then returned to the glove compartments of our company vehicles. Thankfully, I can count on one hand the number of times we had to use them.

All of this takes time, but isn’t it worth it to avoid getting entangled in messy legal issues? What we do before predictable situations arise is invaluable preparation that prevents challenges from running out of control.

It’s tough to get and keep good people, which is why leading companies give them the tools they need to succeed at their jobs. One of those tools is communication training that prepares them for commonly expected circumstances.

You could make a list of hundreds of potential communication scenarios, and if you have the resources, you should address them. You’ll discover most of them fall under the following two umbrellas:

  1. Getting and keeping valued customers
  2. Getting and keeping valued employees

Adding value

There are defining moments in every company’s lifecycle. Don’t leave them to chance. I’ve never forgotten how one company in our service area handled a serious vehicular accident involving several of its employees.

They got ahead of the stories in the newspapers. They were never silent, responding to every inquiry, strategically using words that signaled the operation properly trained team members and maintained equipment.

Proactive communication will always add value. In our complex legal and social media-influenced world, that planning just may save your company should circumstances prove to be overwhelming.   

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