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.

 

 

The top 2 strategies to increase sales…

  1. Return phone calls/emails
  2. Be helpful (answer the question behind the question)

I realize that this seems so elementary, but there’s still a great number of small businesses that don’t heed to this advice and they are losing sales because of it.

Recently, I’ve been in a position to hire a wide variety of service providers personally and I’ve been shocked at how many small businesses didn’t return my calls/emails, or when they did, gave me minimal information or confusing information.

It’s definitely worth a small investment to hire some professional marketing consultants to act as secret shoppers for your business or organization to ensure these two things are happening and, if not, to start to fix them.

 

 

Customer service: Answer the question behind the question

They weren’t really asking when the semester started; they were asking what they needed to do to be ready to start school then.

A man listening on the phone
“Customer Service Assistant on the Phone” by CWCS Managed Hosting, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

In my first marketing directorship at a community college, one of my responsibilities was to oversee the switchboard for the college. When the original member of my team who filled this crucial role announced her resignation due to a family move, I asked to spend a few days doing her tasks with her so I would understand the role and know more about the personality and skills we needed to fill that role.

And that’s when I noticed it, several times per day, we would get phone calls that replicated this script:

Me: (greeting)

Caller: When does the fall semester start?

Me: August 22

Caller: Ok (long pause) Thank you.

Me: You’re welcome. Have a good day.

Was I providing good customer service?

In actuality, no. What I quickly realized was, these same people were calling back a few hours or days later and asking questions about how to enroll, how to register, etc. They weren’t really asking when the semester started; they were asking what they needed to do to be ready to start school then. And I wasn’t giving them the information or assistance they really needed.

So I changed the script:

Me: (greeting)

Caller: When does the fall semester start?

Me: August 22. Would you like me to connect you to someone who can work with you to get you set-up to start then?

Caller: Yes! Thank you, that’d be great.

Me: You’re welcome. Hold on one moment while I transfer you (transfer to Admissions)

After a few days of this, the Director of Admissions called. They had noticed the significant increase in calls and noticed that the calls were all potential students. They were curious what had happened.

This led to the Director of Admissions and I working together to identify other areas in the our communications and processes where we weren’t answering the question behind the question.

I’ll admit that it’s a continual process, it’s just too easy to slip back into being busy and not thinking-through to the actual, or next question, so I have to remind myself of this often.

When a potential or current customer contacts your organization, are you answering the question behind the question? Are you answering the question that they will call with next? Do you provide them with the information they need to move along in the sales process?

Photo: “Customer Service Assistant on the Phone” by CWCS Managed Hosting, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Small business marketing strategies for “Small Business Saturday”

This coming Saturday is another one of the American Express sponsored “Small Business Saturday” days where we are all encouraged to shop at local small businesses. To expand on this, I’d like to offer the following small business marketing strategies for those of you who own or consult small businesses.

Review your hours for customer convenience

Recently, I purchased a Groupon for an exterior car detailing from a company about 30 minutes away from my home. After my discounts from Groupon, the price was $5, so I quickly snapped it up after quickly researching the company. What I failed to look at, however, was their hours. Imagine my shock when I called them to schedule and found out that they are only open 8 am to 4 pm Monday through Friday. Luckily, Black Friday is coming up and I’m not driving that day, so it worked out for me. But otherwise, I would have been a very disappointed customer.

So, take the time to do a careful evaluation of your customer base. Who are they? When do they have free time? When do they work? When are they most likely to visit your business? Then take that information and look at your current hours. Are they convenient for the customer? Do they match their schedule as to when they would be most likely to want to visit you? If not, I recommend readjusting your hours. Remember: it’s not about what’s convenient for you, it’s about what’s convenient for them.

Take a good look at your facilities

As I mentioned in my blog post, 5 things that are killing your marketing effectiveness and your business’ reputation, how your facilities look, feel, etc. sends signals to your customers about the performance of your business and whether or not they should come back to your business. If you own a small business, it’s a struggle to keep up your facilities and I know that, but ask friends or family that haven’t been to your business to walk in and give you their first impressions. Some of the changes might cost big money, but some may cost very little. For example, there’s a small business that I have to go into from time to time and I absolutely dread going in there because the entire place reeks of smoke. They have clearly been smoking in there for years because the smell is everywhere. Stopping smoking inside and a good cleaning with a smell-removing agent is inexpensive and would go a long way in encouraging me to come back again.

Think old-fashioned customer service

One of the best things that can be used as an advantage in a small business marketing strategy is a small business’ ability to provide old-fashioned quality customer service. But many small businesses struggle with this. There is another company that I have to frequent often to pick up orders. I’ve been going in at least once per month for three years to this small shop and have been communicating with them via email and phone quite often. Yet, the woman at the front desk still cannot get my name right. She either calls me another name or, if she does get it right, she spells it wrong (my name is Nicole, not Nichole). Take the time to get to know your frequent customers. They are the ones you rely on for consistent purchases and referrals.

Another example of this related to Small Business Saturday was a time when I purposely went to several locally owned jewelry stores looking for a 30 inch stainless steel thin snake-link chain. Many of the stores just said “Sorry, we don’t have anything like that.” One told me it was impossible to make one that long, and one offered to sell me two Pandora chains linked together for over $100. Disappointed, I went home and ordered one off ebay for $13. Imagine what would have happened, however, had one of these retailers offered to special order me one? They would have gained a customer for life. Or, a step further, what if one of these retailers had a policy to write down every time their customers came in and asked for something they didn’t have and then reevaluated their inventory based on sales and those requests?

So, as we approach another Small Business Saturday, take the time to look at your small business marketing strategies and see if they need some changes or additions like those mentioned above to make your business as successful as possible.