Recently I saw a company I purchase off regularly go through a turmoil of bad publicity. Thanks to social media it spread like wildfire and huge exaggerations were made by the public. People left reviews on sites that were completely created through their own wild imagination and it left the company in frustration as their honest approach was dooming them to the end of this early venture.
Having worked with a few companies now who have suffered similar incidences but with less press thanks to the lack of social media coverage I advised this company to do the following:
- Remain calm. Do not take it personally. Unfortunately as with all cases, the truth is never as interesting as fiction, and therefore exaggeration and outright lies can be expected. One thing noticed from all the complaints and storytelling is that customers are all too happy to make anonymous complaints rather than pick up the phone, speak to the company and find out the truth. The anonymity gives that individual power; to tell the truth and to lie. A reader is either unable to distinguish the facts or find the story entertaining and so will proceed to jump the bandwagon.
- Stick to the truth. It’s far easier to be honest than formulate large stories with holes, or twist the truth to a more interesting story. Leave this to the public, I guarantee there will be a few who will thoroughly enjoy twisting and reshaping the story.
- Inform all the employees. It’s important to inform the staff for two reasons; firstly if your employees answer the phone and have no idea how bad the situation is, they are unable to help alleviate it. Employees who are in first contact with the public should be informed immediately. The second reason why you ought to tell employees is they have a right to know. Keeping them involved through the good and the bad builds loyalty and trust. You trusted them with the increase in sales notice, so let them get involved and support you through the bad times also.
- Wait. How many people can remember what they read or saw on the news last week? Local news anyone? People love to hear gossip, but they soon forget the intensity of it and once you have made your announcements and suffered through the complaints as best you can all you can do is give it time for customers to calm down and find new gossip. I’m not suggesting you leave it months, I suggest a week and in that time you work on the next point.
- Promote. I personally hate it when companies rush into a charity gimmick after admitting to failing their customers. It’s a pitiful act that seems entirely rigged. Therefore I suggest you wait for the news to fade, wait for people to forget their emotional connections to the brand (or at least allow time for the pain to heal) and while you wait think of new ways to promote the company in a new light. If the situation was absolutely horrendous and you end up replacing the management team, then it might be worth saying “under new management” in your new campaign to show you acted on the issue from the top. If the issue wasn’t that bad however but something drastic is needed to remind customers of how great you are then consider a promotion, an offer, a new promise etc. I leave this to you as it depends on the product/service offered and to whom.
Follow these basic guidelines and it will help you to handle the bad publicity. You can even do a complete 360 and take people back to loving you if you initiate the timings and have a damage limitation strategy on hand for events in the future.