However hard you try, there is likely to come a time when your business attracts some negative publicity. How you choose to deal with this unwanted attention if it arises can make all the difference in how severely it impacts your company and its reputation in the long run.
There are three ways most people–and companies- react to negative publicity:
- Immediately go on the offensive and react in an equally negative way (sue them, rant and rave, call people liars or cheats)
- Ignore it and hope it will go away
- Confront the source of the negative publicity and do everything possible to come up with a positive resolution to the issue.
Which one do you believe will be most effective? Here are examples of each scenario for you to consider:
Go on the Offensive
Imagine someone posted something negative about your company on the internet, a bad review of your product, or a nasty message on a social media board. Years ago this scenario cropped up on the news in a big way.
A woman in Chicago posted a negative comment about her landlord on Twitter. Someone at the property management company tried and file a $50,000 lawsuit against her for defamation. They were unsuccessful; the suit was thrown out in court and all the publicity the story generated (it made the front page of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Daily News, The Guardian and more) did far more to harm the reputation of the real estate management company than their tenant’s single 140 character Tweet could ever have done.
For this example, we can look to no other than the former President of the United States himself. When he first came to office, a story began to circulate that Barack Obama was not a natural born American citizen at all and that he had in fact been born in Kenya, which had the story been true would have meant constitutionally he could not hold the office of President.
Obama and his aides chose to ignore the story, thinking it so ridiculous that no one would ever believe it. But some people did, and the rumor grew. Eventually the President had to post a copy of his birth certificate online to prove he really was born in Honolulu.
This was a little too late however, as the number of people who believe the born in Africa story to be true became quite a few more than the one or two who stated the rumor and they are apparently still unconvinced, as the person who helped start and spread the rumour in the first place – Donald Trump – succeeded Obama as President of the United States in 2016.
How does this relate to your business? It’s the snowball effect. A single customer makes a negative comment about your business. You know it’s unfair and unreasonable so you ignore it. But they tell someone else, who in turn tells three other people. If you do not address the situation as soon as it arises you could potentially lose a lot of customers.
Confront the Situation Head On
A man called up an online store’s customer service line upset because the shoes he ordered from them did not fit. In fact he was irate, even though he was actually the person who placed the order (and chose the wrong size). This is a company though whose call center employees are not bound by too many rules or scripts to follow. The main rule is make the customer happy.
Which is what the customer service rep did. She told the man she could overnight him a new pair of shoes in the right size and he could return the other pair when he could, as long as it was within 365 days of the purchase. Crazy huh? Why not make him send the shoes back first and why should the company pay for overnight shipping?
Unbeknownst to her, the irate customer had a well-read blog and posted a piece all about his experience singing the praises of the company and proclaiming himself a lifelong customer. And in the years since Zappos – the company in question – have become known as a shining example of a company that does customer service right, greatly enhancing its reputation overall.
This is the way to handle negative publicity, taking a potentially bad situation and making it better. For the $20 it might have cost to overnight shoes the clothing company potentially gained dozens of new customers on the basis of the glowing blog review.
If your business does attract negative publicity or you do find yourself on the phone with an irate customer, rather than getting angry and going on the offensive do everything you can – within reason of course– to make them happy. Instead of filing a lawsuit because someone said something bad about you ask them why and what it would take to make them happy and you may find that the negative becomes a big positive.