As a PR consultant, crisis communications and dealing with a client in trouble is a large part of my portfolio, but I have chosen not to include that in my EntrepreneurMom blogs – I mean, how much trouble can a home business get into, right?
- If you bake or cook/cater, what would happen if one (or several) of your customers became ill after eating your food (whether the food was to blame or not)?
- If you knit or create a clothing line, what would happen if the fabric caused an allergic reaction or caught fire, etc?
- What if you provide a creative service and the finished does not live up to your client’s expectations, and they take to social media to voice their frustrations?
- What if a client is unhappy with your service and takes to a customer complaint site such as Hello Peter to tell the world about their negative experience?
- What if you offer a discount or use a site such as Groupon but are not able to keep up with demand, and as a result, end up providing an inferior product or service?
- What would happen if a child was injured in your day care group?
A while back I came across a story that had been brewing in Social Media circles for a few weeks but finally made its way onto a popular radio station that started me thinking about this very subject. It also broke on several online and social media pages, as it actually goes so far to suggest that that the page could be a scam.
The story is about a mom who started an online store earlier this year which sells discounted nappies (diapers) but there are apparently many customers who have not received their order, and whether it was a scam or just poor business management.
I actually read about this several weeks ago (if not months back) when the issue first came to light, on a local Facebook group. Moms were complaining that they had ordered the nappies but they hadn’t been delivered. I happened to see the post right away and it was surprising to see how quickly the moms on the group (whether they had purchased from the online store or not) had gotten involved and the comments were not at all supportive.
My belief and understanding is that it is not a scam, but that the issues are likely a result of a series of bad business decisions. But imagine that: a mom with a home business one moment and defending herself on a major radio station the next. Could this be you?
The fact is that bad things happen in all businesses, small or larger, corporates or at home. So of them may seem beyond your control, others may seem too small to be serious, but BELIEVE me, with the introduction of social media and smart phones, a problem within a business can go viral FAST.
There seems to be several things that went wrong in this situation, some may or may not have been within the fault of the business owner and some problems have certainly arose due to how the issue was handled.
What it truly highlights is how possible it is for a business to get into trouble so here are a few Do’s and Don’ts to help prevent a similar situation from happening (and to mitigate the issue if it does):
- Communication is KING. It is actually the be-all-and-end-all of a business. Long before there is a problem you should communicate with your clients and customers – keep it an open door. This builds a relationship, a trust. Believe me, if something goes wrong with your product or service you want that door open so that your client or customer goes to you FIRST and gives you a chance to rectify the issue BEFORE hitting social media. Sometimes things really ARE beyond your control: suppliers that don’t deliver, late couriers, internet that goes down, and most clients and customers will be understanding if you let them know early and frequently. Do keep immaculate records of conversations, such as email or social media posts.
Do ask your client or customer how they would like the situation rectified. Offer a refund, free hours, an additional product, hand delivery, do whatever it is necessary fix the problem.
Be quick to respond whether it is a phone call, email or social media message. The problem will NOT go away if ignored, if fact, silence is likely to fan the flames.
Do have a lawyer that you can talk to but also consider a professional PR consultant. PR is not (or should not) be about fabricating a false story but having an unemotional third person to help you communicate (especially when you are feeling like you’ve been victimised) can go a long way. Once lawyers are introduced to the public, you put yourself on the defensive, creating a more aggressive scenario (of course, you still do want to know your rights.
Before things go wrong, create a Contingency Plan of what could possibly happen in your business, from food poisoning to failing seams, lack of stock, or postal strike. How will you handle a problem in your business? As a special gift from me to you, download your free Mini Contingency Plan Template here.
- Don’t delete social media comments that are directly in relation to your business, product or service, even if they are bad. Even a nasty comment allows you the opportunity to explain yourself, make amends or do what is necessary. Remember, it is so likely that the complainant or someone else has taken a screen grab of the comment BEFORE you deleted it…it WILL come back to haunt you.
Don’t get angry, even if you truly believe that you are in the right. Again, with social media things can go from bad to catastrophic so fast you won’t see it coming. I mentioned it in the beginning but when the story FIRST broke on a mommy social media group it was amazing how quickly the conversation grew – and turned nasty. I am not in any way judging what happened but it is interesting to note for your own reference. You may start out with an unhappy customer, but if the problem goes viral you may well end up in a situation
Don’t pass the buck: if you made a mistake, forgot an order, ran out of ingredients, did not quite get the colour wool correct BE HONEST, apologise and offer a few solutions on how to rectify the situation. Don’t blame someone else for the mistake because ultimately even IF someone was to blame (a courier did not deliver an order for example) you are considered the project manager and should have either stopped the problem before it happened or VERY quickly communicated the delay to a client or customer AND rectified it.