Monday, June 15, 2009

You Ruined Timmy's Birthday - Now What?

Imagine you’re sitting in your office, not really paying attention to the noise about the office. You have a window that faces the street, but you’re so busy getting next month’s invoices ready to print and mail, you don’t even bother looking outside.

But then, as you’re staring at your monitor, you see movement from the corner of your eye. Something red just danced by the window. You try to ignore it and keep working (gotta get those bills paid!) but it reappears. You half-notice that it moves from your left to your right and out of view, and then returns the other way. Again and again it appears.

Finally, you can’t stand it anymore and look out the window.

There, parading right in front of your firm’s front door, is a man carrying a big red sign. Back and forth he marches. You wait until he turns and read the sign. In big, bold, black letters, you read your firm’s name with the tagline “RUINED TIMMY’S BIRTHDAY!”

What would you do?

Would you close your blinds and hope the man with the sign didn’t see you peering out your window at him?

Would you call your admin assistant and ask her to go out and demand the man leave?

Would you open the window and toss out some money, hoping that will make him go away?

No, of course not.

Now, let’s change the scenario a little bit.

Imagine that while you’re working on your invoices, you get an email from a friend. The email is from someone you know, like and trust, so you set aside those burdensome invoices and read the message. It says:

“Hey, just a heads up. I was on Twitter today and saw someone complaining that your company screwed up their order. Something about ruining little Timmy’s birthday or something.

“Free for golf Sunday?”

Now what would you do?

Would you shoot off a nasty email telling your friend that you never screw up orders?

Would you close the email and try and find time later in the week to investigate and try to get more information?

Would you accept your friend’s golf date and ignore the first part of his message?

If you don’t know what you’d do, it’s okay. You’re not alone.

There are companies big and little who don’t really know what to do when confronted by an angry customer on the public stage of social media. In fact, there are two pretty recent examples of very large companies who, perhaps not understanding the implications of inaction, didn’t do much at all. let their outraged authors and customers speak for them when their computers apparently made a mistake in rating several hundred books. Much of this was played out on blogs and especially on Twitter, where the keyword or hashtag #amazonfail became a trending topic for several days.

In the end, all Amazon did was issue an explanation that many considered to be little more than a weak excuse. And they never stepped foot on the public stage where the angry authors and customers were waiting for an apology.

They never even drove past the theater.

Dominos Pizza almost waited too long when they learned of two idiotic franchise employees had uploaded a video to YouTube showing some incredibly gross and crass behavior. The video became viral and spread quickly on the Internet. I was monitoring Twitter that day and watched as person after person retweeted (forwarded) the link to the nasty video.

It took a day or two before Dominoes Pizza corporate office created an account on Twitter, where there was much speculation about the sanitary conditions of franchises nationwide. In Internet time, a full business day can seem like an eternity when you have a public relations crisis to handle.

In the end, they did the right thing. They addressed the issue, head on. They apologized. They assured their customers and potential customers that the two employees involved in making the video had been found and fired. Further, they made sure to point out that the unfortunate franchise had been closed for the day and sanitized from top to bottom.

In both cases, the brands suffered. But, what makes these two cases so different?

As in most such cases, hindsight is always going to be 20/20. No matter how quickly or correctly a company reacts to protect and reclaims their brand’s honor, there’s almost always going to be someone, internal or external to the company process who can see where they might have done something just a little better or faster.

So it is in these two very public challenges to and Dominoes Pizza.

Here’s what made the difference to me (and to many others, from what I’ve read).

Amazon shut the blinds and hoped the problem would go away.

Dominoes Pizza put a plan together, and though some would have preferred a quicker response, addressed the issue square on. They even put up their own YouTube video with an executive face, and apologized.

There’s the difference, right there.

It should be noted that Amazon may have told the truth. Perhaps there was some computer glitch that caused an error in classifications and reviews of some small percentage of their enormous inventory.

It should also be noted that what happened at Dominoes Pizza happened at a franchise location, without the knowledge of either the franchisee or the corporate offices.

See the difference here?

Amazon was at fault, but didn’t accept responsibility.

Dominoes Pizza was certainly not at fault, but accepted full responsibility.

They apologized and addressed the issue. That’s the difference.

So, what would you do with that email your friend sent you?

Well, here’s what I would do.

1. I would, for the time being, put away the invoices. I would pick up the phone and call my friend, not to accept the golf date, but to ask for all the information he has about Timmy and his ruined birthday.

2. If I wasn’t already on Twitter, I would ask my friend to help me sign up, and then I would find the message containing the complaint.

3. I would reach out to the person who posted the message. I would apologize in advance and provide a way for them to contact me.

4. Finally, I would fix the problem to the mutual satisfaction of the customer and the company, and do all I could to see that I never again ruined another child’s birthday.

What would you do?

Please use the comments section below to tell how you would address the issue.

Thanks for reading.


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