Last week I was contacted by a company that found itself in an unfortunate position. One of the products it produces had been failing, and bloggers were taking to the internet to voice their displeasure. The end result was that if you Googled the company and its product, the majority of the top results were, you guessed it, from angry bloggers.
So what happens if your company finds itself in a similar situation with customers running with pitchforks in hand to their blogs and Twitter to rake your company over the coals? What’s your plan of action? Here’s the advice I gave them for correcting this issue, and how your company can handle a similar crisis in three steps:
1 – Fix the problem. No amount of social media or ANY other type of on or offline communications will help you until your company FIRST fixes the problem. If you have a defective product, or shoddy customer service, or whatever, you have to first address the ROOT CAUSE of the customer complaints. And once you have a solution in place for the problem….
2 – Actively respond to customers via social media. Find the customers that are blogging and twittering and Facebooking their displeasure over your company, and let them know that first, you hear them and thank them for their feedback. Second, that you apologize. Third, that you have a PLAN IN PLACE to fix the problem. Fourth, that you’re here and listening, and invite further feedback from them, and give them a way to get in touch with you.
Last week when Graco announced a recall to one of its strollers, the company turned to Twitter to interact with customers and get them information about which strollers were and were not affected by the recall. Timely communication such as this also helps stunt the spread of rumors and misinformation, which only makes the company’s crisis management efforts twice as hard. Additionally, customers loved how Graco was proactive in reaching out to them, and a potentially negative situation for the company became a positive one.
Customers want to know that you hear them, and what you are going to do to correct the problem. If you can show them that you are listening, that you are taking their criticism to heart and ACTING on it, then that criticism will slowly turn into positive evangelism for your company. That means those existing negative Google results for your company and product will begin to turn positive.
3 – Start getting correct information out via social media channels. But your company still needs to ‘tell its story’. Many people will be doing research on Google for your product before they buy, so you need to make sure they see the correct information about your product and company. If you have a blog, this is where you can let customers know what you are doing to address the situation, and how you are correcting the problem. If you aren’t currently blogging, this is a great excuse for starting one. Dell’s company blog had barely been in place for a week in 2006 when the ‘exploding laptop’ issue ‘blew up’. But having the blog in place gave Lionel and the rest of Dell’s blogging team a channel to get relevant and accurate information out about the situation, and what Dell was doing to correct it.
So there’s a simple 3-point plan for avoiding a social media firestorm; Fix the problem, Respond to customers letting them know you have fixed the problem, Get the word out via your OWN social media channels that you have fixed the problem. But again, the starting point is to fix the problem. If you think that you ignore the core issue and just use social media to ‘push down’ negative Google results, you are setting yourself up for failure.
The only thing worse than a company that doesn’t respond during a crisis is one that DOES respond, yet still doesn’t fix the problem.
Pic via Flickr user chaosinjune
Kami Huyse says
Fix the problem indeed, or at least have a plan to fix it. So many companies actually DO start formulating a plan to fix it but they forget to incrementally release the information. You insinuated it in this post, but you can’t wait until you have the complete story before you start telling it.
.-= Kami Huyse´s last blog ..Lee Odden Could Get Me Shot! Social Media Rockstars Not Welcome Everywhere =-.
Mack Collier says
Exactly, Kami. We all have ADD, and demand instant results. Even if the company doesn’t yet have a complete plan of action, it can still respond, apologize, and let customers know that they are working feverishly on a solution to the problem, and that it’s coming.
But if a company is having a crisis situation, you can’t wait a week to get information out, even if you don’t have the end solution in hand, you can still let customers know that it’s coming.
But you’d better deliver on that solution!
Eric Brown says
Great advise here Mack.
To your point, it also sure helps if your company is already participating in the Social Media space.
However, if they are, such as Graco in your example, they are likely way ahead of the curve, and can actually turn those situations into PR positive initiatives as opposed to firestorms.
.-= Eric Brown´s last blog ..Social Media Marketing; Your Blog is the Center Hub =-.
Mack Collier says
Exactly, Eric. The Dell example came AFTER Jeff Jarvis’ ‘Dell Hell’ episode the year before. That crisis got Dell to rethink its position on blogging and bloggers, and led to them starting a blog, which they then had in place to respond to the ‘exploding laptop’ episode.
Companies like Dell and Graco are already actively using social media, and participating in the same channels that their customers are. So the process is always much smoother for companies like this.
Matt J McDonald says
Good stuff as always.
Like most people, I agree that number 1 on the list is the most important by a long shot. All the spin, messaging, etc. doesn’t amount to much if your product is still crap.
That being said, you also have to think about how you’re going to make it up to the people that had to deal with a bad/defective product. Soles fell off our shoes? Here’s two new pairs. Wheels on our stroller broke? Here’s a new, higher-end model. If you go way out of your way to compensate people for a bad experience, they’ll mention that all over the social channels as well.
Ari Herzog says
I await Graco’s comment here. While you focus on customer service, it is important to not only reply to customers who seek help but also say thanks when commended, such as what you did above, Mack.
.-= Ari Herzog´s last blog ..Happy That Summer Camps Use Social Media =-.
Kelly Voelker says
Hi Mack – Looks like Ari beat me to it! This is Kelly from Graco and I just wanted to say thanks for the recognition in your article. We’re flattered and really appreciate it. Talk to you soon.
Bert DuMars says
Mack – Thank you very much for the nice post on our efforts related to the Graco Baby Stroller recall last week. Kelly Voelker did an excellent job last week managing the crisis communication effort both with traditional press and in the social media space. A recall like this causes a spike in activity and communications effort, but actual management and support goes on for much longer.
A key learning from this event is how important it is to build a community around your brand, product or service as soon as possible. You cannot predict when a major event or crisis will occur. You must be out there consistently over a long period of time to build trust and relationships with your brand advocates and customers. You never know when one or many may come to your rescue (or you need them too).
Another key learning from this event, and many other insights we have gained during our social media journey at Newell Rubbermaid, is you have to show you care. Kelly reached out to moms in need of guidance related to the recall and showed she cared and wanted to help them in anyway that she could. This is very important.
And, finally, Kelly was not alone. The Graco Baby customer service team and the entire organization was supporting this recall effort. Kelly was the most visible, but there were many dedicated, concerned and caring employees behind her as well as our Social Media Agency: Converseon.
We sincerely appreciate your post and your using Kelly Voelker’s work last week as an example of how to handle crisis communications in the social media space.
Vice President E-Business & Interactive Marketing
Mack Collier says
Bert and Kelly thanks so much for chiming in here. Always fascinating to hear the company’s point of view and what went into its social media planning.
Nick Brown says
I find this case study especially interesting because it involved headlines such as, “Children’s fingers amputated in Graco strollers,” which is a gripping statement with a gruesome visual.
While it’s easy to commend Graco for handling the crisis immediately and the right way, the fact remains not every Graco owner is aware of the recall and there is still risk for more negativity.
IMO, the company deserves as much credit for, as Bert points out, “..being out there consistently over a long period of time to build trust and relationships with brand advocates and customers. ” A combination of community entrenchment and timely, outbound customer service will continue to serve Graco and any other crisis-affected company.
.-= Nick Brown´s last blog ..Are you an agent of trust? =-.
Mack Collier says
Nick, what would you suggest Graco should do to reach the customers that might not know about the recall?