Yes I am home, but my head and thoughts are still in Bali, keeping up with supporting those who are stranded, and those home but finding it difficult to cope.
This unmitigated customer service disaster, and it is a disaster, is continuing to make a big impact on ordinary everyday tourists. It is very clear that customer service and communications departments within airlines and insurance companies are struggling to cope. This is no excuse for their behaviour, and big multinational companies, more than any other companies have the finances and resources to outsource this if they are overwhelmed.
After almost two weeks, if a major company cannot streamline its communication it is time to outsource. Even for the selfish reason of protecting their brand.
I have made it home and lodged my formal complaint with the airline carrier that has since cancelled both my flights home. If I did not make the decision to purchase a one way ticket via Kuala Lumpur on Thursday night I would still be in Bali. I would be facing a second week of being stranded, and the very real risk of my patients becoming unwell at home without my care would have caused me fury, anger and sadness. I know that because I have watched the departure details, not on the airlines website, but on the official Bali airport page. I realised about one week ago that because the airlines are not updating their pages regularly, and often doing a ‘cut and paste job’ on information, the Facebook pages and Twitter feeds are out of date and unreliable.
I took my son to his basketball match yesterday and I felt true exhilaration that I was home and I was back doing all the normal stuff. A basketball match. I won’t forget that feeling for a very long time. It has taught me that my life and what it entails is the most important and central part to me. Familiar faces, routines, my own bed, my own home cooked food, all combine to make me feel like I belong. I know that being delayed and not getting back to familiar territory is fertile ground for an exacerbation of anger and helplessness. This is something the airlines and insurance companies seem to miss.
Yes there is the risk of flying into an ash cloud. And yes there is risk in leaving people stranded. Everybody is talking about the latter but the airlines are not listening.
Now, more than ever, we need to keep talking. There has been an absolute tragedy in Europe and although people in Bali are not directly affected, as humans we are affected as we see more and more acts of terror across the world. Because these attacks kill and maim tourists we can’t help but relate. I am not trying to make people more anxious, I am acknowledging that many of us will be having these thoughts anyway, and it is best to talk about them. What is imperative right now is to share your feelings, and perhaps minimise how much you watch footage of the tragedy in Paris. It will only serve to increase anxiety. It won’t help.
I feel so sorry for the staff of the airlines and insurance companies on the front line, handling customers who are beyond being polite and reasonable. I hope the companies are looking after their staff’s well being. Staff members did not envisage this happening either. These companies need more than ever to take control and display true leadership. By no means stop calling the airlines, keep talking but think about the language you are using. Some call centre operators are probably on the cusp of going out on stress leave, which is awful for them and may mean longer delays getting through. If you are beyond and completely frustrated, get a note pad and pen and start writing down all of your concerns and interactions. Write down dates, times, names of people you have spoken to and what was communicated. This is your book of power for when you get home and feel more powerful. Keep conversations with call centre operators brief and civil.
Here are some of the ways that may help improve communication in this extremely difficult time;
Communicating in person
- Keep talking to each other, now is not the time to pitch against each other and take our out your frustrations on each other. If you are feeling very frustrated, take some time out and go for a walk and let other know when you will be back. If others are upset around you, given them permission to have a break. Stay in the moment. Don’t argue around your children as they will be anxious themselves.
- Organise times to catch up with fellow guests you have met at he resort, in cafes or at the airport. Those who listen when you communicate. Perhaps delay talking about the disturbance until you are all together, and try and do other things such as reading and walking when not with the group. Hearing and thinking about the same thing over and over will lead to burnout and worsen fatigue.
Communicating via social media
- Just because airline social media channels are not being manned as professionally and pro-actively as desired, don’t stop using them. If you are not receiving replies to your posts, don’t stop sending them. Keep screenshots of communications. If you need to find something to do, check out software such as Hootsuite that can schedule posts. Schedule a pile of posts, tagging who you are trying to communicate with at 5-10 minute intervals. Then leave the software to do its job.
- Learn about the power of the hashtag. Hashtags are really, really useful. If you don’t know what one is, here is a quick run down. A hashtag is like sticking a ‘post it’ note to a piece of paper. Imagine some ‘post it notes’ in different colours. Pieces of paper with a blue ‘post it’ note contain shopping lists. Red contains information about your favorite hobby. Green for recipes you’d like to make, and so on. Now imagine throwing all the pieces of paper on the floor. Want that recipe for spaghetti bolognese? ( I always crave spag bol when I am travelling) Look for the pieces of paper with…green ‘post it’ notes. Want your tweet or FB post to come up in a search about your predicament? Use a hashtag. Hashtags are not owned by anybody. Sometimes they can be registered as official but anybody can use them. You can use them to search for information. Say if you want to find out more about the ashcloud, enter #ashcloud into the Twitter search engine and all tweets related to the hashtag will come up.
- Hashtags and ‘@’ signs are different. An ‘@’
- sign before the official address (called a ‘handle’) will send your tweet to the right person. An example of this would be this tweet I could post on Twitter or enter into Hootsuite to keep sending every 10 minutes;
- Hi @VirginAustralia, any chance of flying today? #Bali #ashcould The staff managing the tweet at Virgin will see it as it has been sent to them. Whether or not they read it is up to them, just like if you get your bills out of the letterbox and don’t open them. They kind of still exist, and you still have to pay them, even if you decide to keep the envelope closed. The hashtag means that anybody searching for information about Bali or the ash cloud will see your tweet.
- As a word of caution though, do not send a tweet containing your personal information or flight number unless you want the general public knowing your movements. And only send urgent information to a handle if you know the handle is checked constantly.
Communicating to the universe
- Keep the conversation going. Hot topics today are old news tomorrow. Search for a hashtag you like such as #ashcloud or others that official groups like Bali Travel Group recommend. The more traffic on a hashtag, the more it will ‘trend’ and will capture the attention of those whop present the news. Like it or not, that is how things work nowadays.
- Send out positive stories that will inspire and motivate others to keep going. Positive accounts will spread as well as negative ones. If somebody on a call centre has gone the extra mile (pardon the pun) acknowledge that. Send a thank you note or email when you get home.
- Keep in touch with everybody at home waiting for you. Let your friends and family know how things are going. If you are heading off to the airport let people know if your flight is on time.
And a final word, as a doctor and psychiatrist. Keep talking when you get home and let your GP know if you are not coping. If you are in real trouble in Bali, and very concerned about your health and safety, contact the Australian embassy. If you have a mental illness and have run out of medication, seeing a doctor as soon as you arrive should be your first priority.
Stay safe, keep talking, force the airlines to listen. Don’t talk about compromising safety but about alternative ways you can get home. And educate them that there are very real consequences to your health should you continue to be delayed that go way past inconvenience.