BPA Featured Article

Keeping a Cool Head During a Customer Service Disaster

By Tracey E. Schelmetic, TMCnet Contributor
February 27, 2014

If your business has made some errors lately on the customer service front, it’s time to forgive yourself. After all, it could be worse: you could be in the cruise industry.

From ships full of puking vacationers to ships run aground and rolled on their sides spewing fuel into pristine waters, it hasn’t been a great couple of years for the cruise industry. Last year, it was Carnival Cruise Line’s turn to be in the unsavory spotlight. This year, Royal Caribbean has taken its place at the nadir of the customer experience.  

There’s an old saying that the mistake itself isn’t what will be remembered by the public—it’s how the fallout is handled that will be remembered. (If there isn’t such a saying, there should be.) Some companies offer a textbook example of how to recover from a PR disaster – consider Johnson & Johnson, whose picture-perfect actions following the early 1980s tainted Tylenol incident are quite literally studied in business schools. On the flipside, witness the CEO of clothing company Lululemon, Chip Wilson, who compounded his initial error – offering a sub-standard product that he sells at a very high price – by implying that the real problem is that his customers are fat. If there are any women continuing to buy Lulelemon products today, they’re probably Wilson’s blood relatives. 

So when a public relations disaster occurs, it’s important for companies to sit down, clear their heads and offer a reasoned, coherent and responsible recovery that is deployed consistently enterprise-wide. In other words, picking up your smartphone and sending out a bunch of angry, ranting Tweets before your blood pressure has returned to normal is probably not a great idea. (Advice Alec Baldwin might want to take.)

Brad Smith, executive vice president of customer experience at Sage North America, recently offered some advice via an article in Forbes to companies recovering from a PR disaster. His tips are all excellent, though they should be second nature. Be humble and empathetic. Ensure your apology is sincere (none of today’s “I’m sorry if you were offended” non-apologies). Rectify the situation with real value for your customers. (Five percent off an extended warranty isn’t going to do it.) Keep your promises, and offer an intelligent, coordinated response through social media. Ensure the contact center is in on the program.

The latter two points are the trickiest part. During a disaster, various employees within the company will likely have different opinions about what happened. They may feel they are being blamed. They may feel angry themselves. All it takes is a single rogue Tweet or contact center agent to undo all the effort your company has made. For this reason, it’s critical that all direct and indirect communications with customers and the media are fully monitored to ensure they fit with the company’s established mea culpa program.  Given the number of calls being handled in your contact center, it becomes a daunting task to ensure the right messages are being handed out.

This is an excellent business case for third-party quality monitoring, which brings an independent actor into the mix whose sole job it is to ensure that all communications are meeting the company’s standards. Companies such as BPA Quality offer a mix of services, including call monitoring and social media monitoring, that allows companies to ensure they are sending the right messages and not compounding their errors with more things to apologize for.

How you screwed up in the first place in one part of the story. What you did to recover from it is the story that more people will want to hear about. Be sure you’re taking the right tone. 

Edited by Alisen Downey


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