Crisis Communications: Stopping a misunderstood customer service experience from going viral

While giving the full explanation each time may not fully prevent customer service issues from going viral and it may make things worse if it frustrates the customer, it can prevent others who are overhearing the conversation from making up their own story and creating a viral crisis via social media.

A photo of empty seats on a Southwest Airlines airplane
“Southwest Airlines” by Kevin Dooley, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Recently, a friend gave me a copy of the Aircraft Owners and Pilot’s Association’s (AOPA) Flight Training magazine to read an article subtitled Who really suffers after an airline incident goes viral.

The article highlights a couple of recent airline customer service experiences, such as a man being dragged-off a United Airlines flight, and how could have been solved in more productive ways. It also argues that, had the whole story of some of these recent incidences been what the public saw, the court of public judgement may have judged the incidences differently.

The latter point is what interested me, as it emphasizes one of the most fundamental principles of crisis communication: If you don’t give people the whole story, they will make up the information they are missing.

And it gives us a way to potentially solve the issue. Customer service representatives need to make sure that EVERY time they discuss they issue, they give the full story and preferably in every sentence. 

In the case of two teenage girls not able to board a United flight because they were wearing leggings, the reason was that they were using “buddy passes” which have strict dress codes. While I wasn’t there and can only surmise what happened, I’m guessing the gate agent, who was probably in a rush, probably said something like “Sorry, you two are’t properly dressed to board this flight” when the Shannon Watts (the woman who complained about it on twitter) overheard. What’s missing from the above version? The full story about them being on buddy passes.

What would it look like to explain the full story in this situation?

Gate agent: You are traveling on a free buddy ticket and your outfit does not meet the dress code for using a free buddy ticket.

Ladies: What?

Gate agent: You are traveling on a free buddy ticket and your outfit does not meet the dress code for using a free buddy ticket. Do you have something else you can change into that meets the dress code for using a free buddy ticket?

Ladies: We didn’t know that. What’s the dress code?

Gate agent: Here is the dress code for using a free buddy ticket. Do you have something else you can change into that meets the dress code for using a free buddy ticket?

But this is hard, gets redundant and takes time in a stressful situation, so people start taking shortcuts.

Gate agent: You don’t meet the dress code, is there something else you can change into?

Reading the above, you can see how, if someone just heard this statement, they could start making-up the rest of the story.

While giving the full explanation each time may not fully prevent customer service issues from going viral and it may make things worse if it frustrates the customer (more trial of this is needed to understand and refine), it can prevent others who are overhearing the conversation from making up their own story and creating a viral crisis via social media.

And when you find yourself on the flip side and the person who overhears, PLEASE take a minute to find out the rest of the story before you pass judgement. I know, easier said than done, and I mess this up all the time, but the more we do this, the less issues we will all have.

 

 

Entrepreneurs and effective marketing

We worked on increasing the effectiveness of their marketing through understanding the Broken Windows Theory for marketing and how it can increase the effectiveness of marketing for their business. 

Last night I had the pleasure to work with 25 entrepreneurs/small business owners as part of an Idea Village workshop in New Orleans. We focused on increasing the effectiveness of the marketing of their businesses through understanding the Broken Windows Theory.

Thank you to everyone who came to the workshop. I look forward to continuing dialogue with you all (y’all)!

Further reading about Broken Windows Theory for marketing:

Effective marketing using the Broken Windows Theory

Addressing the question: Why is branding so important

Your employees can make or break your marketing

The small touches in your business ensure success

Broken Window: TOO nice of a vehicle

Broken Window: Bad drivers in company vehicles

Interviewing? Be careful where you sit and the camera angle

Does it really matter, when you’re doing an interview either in person or on camera, where you sit? It turns out, it does, and rather drastically.

What’s-focal-is-presumed-causal phenomenon

In Robert Cialdini’s newest book Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade he discusses the what’s-focal-is-presumed-causal phenomenon. Essentially, if a camera or third person is viewing a conversation and they can only see one of the faces in the conversation, they view the person whose face they can see more critically and blame them more.

As Cialdini explains:

As we know from the experiments of [Shelley Taylor, a social psychologist at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)], a camera angle arranged to record the face of one discussant over the shoulder of another biases that critical judgment toward the more visually salient of the two. We also know now— from the more recent experiments of social psychologist Daniel Lassiter— that such a camera angle aimed at a suspect during an interrogation leads observers of the recording to assign the suspect greater responsibility for a confession (and greater guilt). Moreover, as was the case when Taylor and her coworkers tried it, [social psychologist Daniel Lassiter] and his coworkers found this outcome to be stubbornly persistent. In their studies, it surfaced regardless of whether the observers were men or women, college students or jury-eligible adults in their forties and fifties, exposed to the recording once or twice, intellectually deep or shallow, and previously informed or not about the potentially biasing impact of the camera angle. Perhaps most disturbingly, the identical pattern appeared whether the watchers were ordinary citizens, law enforcement personnel, or criminal court judges.

Cialdini, Robert (2016-09-06). Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade (p. 63-64). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

How can you fix this?

Ask for the camera to be positioned so that it equally shows your face and the interviewer’s face. In person-to-person situations, make sure you’re positioned so that the third party viewers can see everyone’s face equally.

Cialidini notes:

Nothing could change the camera angle’s prejudicial impact— except changing the camera angle itself. The bias disappeared when the recording showed the interrogation and confession from the side, so that the suspect and questioner were equally focal.

Cialdini, Robert (2016-09-06). Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade (p.63- 64). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Of course, if you wanted to heavily turn the tables in your advantage, you would ask to position so that the third party viewers could see only the interviewer’s face, but there are some ethical implications of doing so and, even if that weren’t the case, I doubt you’d be able to convince someone to do it, since you are the subject of the interview.

My suggestion would be to make equal face angles a stipulation of you agreeing to be interviewed. This might be a challenge, especially at the national media level because multiple camera angles keep the interview interesting to the viewers, but it’s still worth working with your PR team to balance the situation.

Go into situations looking for the focal point

Another way of addressing the situation is to predict the focal points ahead of time or notice them right away given the scenario to be able to fix them. This will take some consideration as you approach various situations, and it will be well worth your time to do so. In a non-planned situation, I recommend walking into a situation and immediately assessing the layout, where the cameras are and where everyone is sitting. If you see bad angles, try to fix it from the get-go, before people start sitting down. Once they’ve chosen a seat or a position, they are less likely to move from it.

However, if they have already chosen a position, you could still tactfully try to remedy the situation. For example, if a third party is watching your job interview, you could say something like “Why don’t you join us at the table?” and helpfully put a chair where they can see both faces equally. Or, for a public forum, you could say “How about we arrange these chairs so that it’s more of a conversation?” and set them up so the audience can see both you and your interviewer equally.

Beyond the media interview

As the examples above show, there are also other times when the what’s-focal-is-presumed-causal phenomenon could have an impact on the outcome of your interviews and conversations, including:

  • Public forum discussions
  • Interviews by the police
  • Conflicts being resolved with a mediator
  • Contentious meetings
  • Job interviews

As you move throughout your days, take notice of face and camera angles. This will get you into the habit of looking for this prior to a critical situation.

Rule of thumb for showing technology in advertising and signage

A quick rule of thumb for technology in ads:

A sign with an outdated cell phone pictured on it with a red circle and slash through it, symbolizing "no cell phones"
Yes, I took this picture with my cell phone. In my defense, a lot of trainers were at the gym using their cell phones to video their clients, so I’m pretty sure this means no TALKING on your cell phone.

A quick rule of thumb for technology in ads:

If the advertisement or sign is going to be up for over a year, don’t show the technology. If it’ll be up for a year or less, go for it.

Technology changes rapidly and your advertisements and signage can look really out of date quickly. If it’s something that’s going to be up for a year or more, use words vs. pictures/graphics.

Also consider what you’re really trying to communicate. For example, the photo above was taken at my gym. People continually use their cell phones to listen to music and trainers regularly use their cell phone to video a client to help coach with form. Did the gym mean we couldn’t do this? I don’t think so; I’m thinking they actually mean no talking on your cell phone while working out.

“To sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it surprising”

This trend makes perfect sense through the lens of Raymond Lowey’s “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” (MAYA) principle, that the Atlantic Magazine writer Derek Thompson summarized beautifully in his article about what makes things cool, “[Lowey] said to sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it surprising.”

Five different phones, of various age, to show how they originally looked like a phone and then moved to a full screen.
The evolution of devices, particularly the iPod/iPhone evolution, is a popular example of the MAYA principle. “Mobile Device Evolution” by Adam Selwood, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

This week, I was skimming readings and came across Ivy Ackerman’s presentation at the 2016 PSFK Conference, where she discusses the “High-Low Dining” concept, namely putting high end restaurants in surprising “low” areas and low-end food in “high” settings. For example, she highlights Sadelle’s New York Bakery, where you have to make a reservation to dine on….bagels, in a high end setting.

MAYA Principle

This trend makes perfect sense through the lens of Raymond Lowey’s “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” (MAYA) principle, that the Atlantic Magazine writer Derek Thompson summarized beautifully in his article about what makes things cool, “[Lowey] said to sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it surprising.”

So Sadelle’s made the bagel surprising. And people are loving it.

Think about how logos evolve; as one of my colleagues pointed out, the Starbucks logo has changed very gradually over time, so gradually that most people didn’t really even register that it happened.

I’m personally a sucker for novelty kitchen items (please don’t buy me any though, I have plenty!). Why do I love them so much? Most likely because they’ve taken something familiar and made it surprising, like these matryoshka dry measuring cups, which I love so much I won’t even use them for measuring things. So yes, this trick even works on marketers, or at least, it works on this one.

When I think about our work in open educational resources (OER), this also explains the popularity of expert-written, peer-reviewed, fully developed resources with print copies readily available. OER is so much more than a book, but basically, we’ve made it look like a book. We’ve taken something surprising, and made it familiar.

Contemplation questions

  • Are you working on something that’s surprising or familiar?
  • How could you apply the MAYA principle to your work?
  • Can you think of products or services that you love or hate that the MAYA principle may be influencing?

 

 

 

 

Implementing change series: Plant a seed

When someone holds a strongly-held belief, presenting new facts or information and thinking they will change right away is a fools errand. In the majority of cases, they won’t. So, I take solace in planting seeds.

A few years ago, I was talking to a friend of mine, a college English professor, who was discussing a book club meeting he was at. One of the other members stated a belief about the text, that was factually incorrect.

This conversation happened years ago, but here’s my best recollection of what happened next:

Me: Did you let them know that’s false?

Him: Nope

Me: Why not?

Him: I could tell they hold that belief very strongly. They weren’t ready to hear the fact about it. If I’d countered with that fact, they would have shut down. So I just asked them for support what they said, which they couldn’t provide, but got them thinking. My job isn’t to change their mind fully, I couldn’t do that with such a strongly held belief, my job is to plant a seed toward new information and understanding and hope that it grows.

Planting Seeds

This conversation really changed my perspective on change management. When someone holds a strongly-held belief, presenting new facts or information and thinking they will change right away is a fools errand. In the majority of cases, they won’t. So, I take solace in planting seeds.

I recently read a Washington Post article about Derek Black renouncing his family’s white supremacist stance. This is a great example of seeds being planted, it wasn’t just one dinner, or one conversation, that moved Derek Black, it was a number of encounters and conversations that moved him to where he is now.

In my work consulting schools on encouraging faculty to adopt Open Educational Resources (OER), I’ve witnessed this many times with faculty. and administrators. There are some faculty who are ready to make the leap right away, and I coach institutions to focus on helping those faculty adopt, but I also consider the work we’re doing on their campuses now as planting seeds for those in the late majority or laggards part of the Diffusion of Innovation Curve.

Similarly, there are also faculty who I’ve now worked with for three years to adopt. They email me every six months or so, ask a question, and disappear again. Each conversation is a seed that brings them closer, and it’s very exciting when one of these faculty do decide transition to OER.

As I’ve written about before when discussing advertising ROI, most major purchase decisions also aren’t made from a single communication or a single source of communication. It’s usually a series of seeds, an ad they see, a conversation with a friend, an experience they’ve had, that move someone to purchase.

What does this mean for OER and other change initiatives?

  1. Still track faculty or consumers who say “yes” now. This gives you an idea what parts of your initiative are working.
  2. Keep track of who interacted with you, but didn’t say yes. You planted a seed with these folks and you have a good chance these folks will say yes in the future.
  3. Make note of other ways you can tell a seed was planted. If for nothing else, to remind you that you are making progress. But,  #1 on this list should always your main focus with any of your actions, followed by #2. This one is just gravy on top. See Combine Active and Passive Strategies for High Impact Results for a more detailed outline of these three.

What does this mean in personal conversations?

What I learned from my friend, is, when someone states a strongly held belief that you think is untrue, don’t counter directly. Take a deep breath and plant a seed by asking for more information. But, you also have to open to maybe having them plant a seed in you during this process as well.