Thank goodness Garuda has come to its senses and rescinded its direct over to disallow passengers to take any videos, photographs or the Indonesian staple, selfies, on board its planes.
For a while there it looked like Garuda had charted for itself a journey of no return into infamy, scorn, and derision. Garuda positively looked like what Ian Mitroff, one of the foremost thinkers on crisis management, would call a Crisis-Prone corporation.
Mitroff holds that corporations fall roughly into two categories where crises are concerned.
On one end of the spectrum are Crisis-Aware corporations that realize the damages crisis can do to their reputations and bottom lines. They are aware that mistakes will happen and, when they do, the corporations will accept responsibility for their actions, apologize if they have to, and will quickly respond with a plan to handle the situation.
On the other end are Crises-Prone corporations. These corporations are not as savvy, or may even be oblivious to how easy it is for a company to make mistakes and the risks of mishandling them afterward. As such, when something negative happens, they tend to react in such ways that often come across as defensiveness.
Judging from the developments surrounding Garuda’s fall out with travel blogger Rius Vernandes, the national airline’s first few responses to the situation, where an action compounded the one that came before it, made it look like it was firmly in the crisis-prone category.
Rius had posted a video of how his business-class flight from Sydney to Bali went wrong, as the flight ran out of wine and the crew had to hand-write the menu in the absence of printed ones.
How should a company react in this situation? A crisis-aware company would have apologized and used it as valuable feedback to improve its services. If it was creative, it could have used self-deprecating humor to win back public sentiment.
KFC’s response to them having to close down over 600 shops because of supply problems in the UK is an example of this. It ran a cheeky, full-page newspaper ad showing an empty bucket, with the usual “KFC” logo replaced by “FCK”. This campaign was quick to win back the heart of KFC’s detractors. Apart from this clever touch of humor, what makes it work was that the fast-food chain giant sincerely apologized and showed genuine efforts at improvement.
Contrastingly, Garuda promptly issued a directive to the crew to disallow any passengers from taking any photos or videos. The airline also tweeted that “this wasn’t a menu card for passengers, but a personal note for flight attendants that wasn’t supposed to be published”, and gave rise to speculations by publicly wondering where Rius obtained it from and why he was sharing it. What soon followed was the filing of a police report against Rius for allegedly violating the unpopular UU ITE.
Indonesia’s netizens reacted by heaping scorn on their national airline. Several of them, including the son of President Jokowi, Kaesang, even decided to have fun at Garuda’s expense. He issued a mock directive spoofing Garuda.
Another day, another mistake. And the hole grows deeper. One of the corporations that joined in the spoofing of Garuda was Grab that issued their mock directive. Garuda was so dour that it used its financial clout – the two corporations had only recently signed a huge deal – to take down the directive on Twitter.
In a city like Jakarta, where information flows fast and furious along social media channels, this action provoked another round of derision and scorn from Netizens.
The interesting questions that arise here were why did Garuda take such actions that made it progressively worse for the corporation. Why do corporations behave in a way that is harmful to their self-interests?
The answer, to return to Mitroff, is in the mindset, which in turn influences the corporate culture of the company.
When in a tight spot, a company may feel compelled to take a safe, easy way out or perceive any negative feedback as personal attacks against it. The reaction therefore is to be defensive against anything negative rather than taking responsibility for its actions and act accordingly.
Such a mindset will lead to a systemic failure of the corporation to intercept early any early warning signals of potential crises situations, its capability to act on them in an open, accountable manner.
What this means is that, unless this mindset is addressed and changed, the responses following a botched video today would likely translate into a series of botched response toward more fundamental issues such as those related to safety in the future.
If there is a silver lining to this incident, it is that Garuda would wake up to the fact that it needs to take the whole discipline of Crisis Management seriously, appoint a champion for it in the company and carry out extensive training and reeducation of its staff to how to handle future crisis-like situations.
It is a great relief, then, to see Garuda yesterday finally coming to its senses and not only rescind the directive but issuing a directive affirming that passengers can take video clips and photos while on board its planes.
With that gesture, Garuda has signaled that it is beginning to correct its course toward bluer skies from the turbulence it has just experienced. Let’s hope it manages to stay the course and become once again, the pride and beloved flag carrier for the nation.