Friday, May 28, 2010


Ooops, is never a word you want to hear.  I don't care if you're working at a dry cleaners, a restaurant, or a nuclear facility.  It's just a sign that bad things are headed down the highway of life ready to smack you right dab in the middle of the forehead.

By rule, "Oops" should be followed by, "sorry" but, as Elton John told us a long time ago, sorry seems to be the hardest word.  This is sad, because sorry can go a long way to solving a lot of problems.

Of course, there are some "oops" moments when sorry just doesn't cut it.  See the recent disaster in the Gulf involving the BP Oil Spill.  You don't just say, "sorry" and it goes away, but it's a good place to start.

Taco Bell Terror:

I bring this up because of a little story I heard yesterday while listening to the radio.  It involves the local baseball 9 (The Colorado Rockies), Taco Bell and one seriously untrained store manager.  You see, locally, whenever the Rockies score seven runs or more, Taco Bell offers a deal to consumers.  Up until yesterday, it was one-dollar for four tacos.  Yes, you have to buy a drink with that, which is another $1.50, which runs your total up to $2.50 for four tacos and a drink, but it's a deal nonetheless.

All that changed on Thursday, May 26th, 2010.  Taco Bell changed the rules.  The problem is, they didn't tell anyone.  So on a beautiful Colorado afternoon in Aurora, a family walked into a Taco Bell, ready to devour some $1 tacos only to be told that the price has been raised to, wait for it...TWO dollars for four tacos. 

As you can imagine, the family was taken aback.  The deal is $1 for four tacos, it's ALWAYS been $1 for four tacos.  How could it suddenly be $2 for four tacos?  Remember yesterday when I noted that stories that matter to me, or you, qualify as news?  Well, this story mattered to me.  Not only because I really like the $1 deal, but because I was so stunned that a company like Taco Bell would make such a mind-numbingly stupid mistake.

It's bad enough to change the rules in mid-season.  It's worse when you don't really tell anyone about it.  Well, that's not true, they told their store managers; at least they knew.  Which really just made a bad situation worse.  Particularly when an untrained store manager got in on the action and refused to honor the $1 deal the family had originally come in for. 

To compound the situation, the manager allegedly told the family that if they didn't like the new deal, they could leave, which the family promptly did, a handful of other customers in tow behind them.  According to one of the family members, the manager actually stepped outside of the store to wave at them goodbye. 

Within an hour, the family was on the air, talking about this "new deal" with the city's most listened to AM talk radio station.  This is the station that broadcasts the Rockies games, as well as Bronco games.  KOA radio is a powerhouse in the region, not just the city since it's a 50-thousand watt clear channel station, meaning it doesn't power down at night so its signal can be heard across half the country.

But all was not lost in Taco Bell land.  by 5pm, within an hour of the story first airing, an executive from Taco Bell was on the air with the hosts, explaining the mishap. 

He started with, "I'm sorry..."

He explained that, indeed, the deal had been changed.  Instead of $1 for four tacos then you have to buy a drink, the deal had been changed to $2 for four tacos but you no longer are forced to buy a drink.  In the end, the executive explained, the overall deal is 50-cents cheaper now because you can refuse to get a drink. 

That's all fine and good.  But where does Taco Bell go from here?  The exec. said that Taco Bell would honor the $1 deal for now, allowing them time to better get the word out to everyone.  Plus, there's that little issue of a store manager doing everything but setting the family car on fire to discourage repeat business.  The executive apologized for that as well, and said action would be taken.  We don't know exactly what action, since it's a personnel matter, but we can hope he gets a swift kick out the door.

What This Means To You:

I bring this story up as a great example of how quickly a crisis can develop, sometimes through no fault of your own.  Yes, Taco Bell blundered by changing the deal with little or no advance warning.  But this story would never have seen the light of day had the store manager simply used better judgement.

Here's another situation where a single store manager cast an entire organization in a bad light:

Sears Driver Runs Over Customers' Dog, Inspires Website

What do you do when a Sears delivery driver runs over one of your dogs and kills it, but all Sears will tell you is that it's your fault for letting your dog out of the house? You start a website called searskilledmydog.com. Update: There has been a reconciliation between the owners and Sears. I've included a statement from Sears below.
 To see the entire article, click here to go to the Consumerist website via Digg.

In this case, the store manager blamed the family for letting it run around free while the truck delivered a new fridge.  What could have been a regrettable, but non-issue story, turned into a full blown viral campaign against Sears with millions viewing the website and sending complaints into Sears headquarters.  Sears, correctly, responded immediately, apologizing, making amends and giving the family a free fridge.

As small business owners or non-profit directors, you often have several individuals besides yourself working directly with the public.  You do your best to hire those that will represent you well.  But sometimes things happen.  Maybe an employee is having a bad day, maybe they are under stress or very tired, or maybe they just don't care.  Whatever the reason, at some point, an employee or staffer is going to screw up and leave customers with a poor impression of your organization.

This happens all the time, and it ends up costing you business.  When it happens and the offended party simply leaves, choosing to never return, you often never hear about it.  But in today's world of instant information, it doesn't take much for an angry customer to post their displeasure all over the web, telling the world how awful you are. 

Hopefully, you won't have to deal with your dirty laundry being aired out on a major radio station.  But even if it's not, a bad Yelp review or scathing blog entry or Facebook post can do as much damage, if not more than a poor news story. 

Be A Lover, Not A Fighter:

How can you combat this?  What if the party doing the posting is a disgruntled employee?  What if it's a downright lie?  These are some of the dangers of social media that you can't escape.  You can try to tell yoruself that staying away from social media in general will keep you safe, but that won't work either. 

Just because your organization isn't involved in social media doesn't mean the rest of the world isn't.  The postings will still show up, the damage will be done, whether you're there or not.  The best way to combat this kind of thing is to be on various social media platforms.  Listen to what people are saying about you, keep an eye on those online reviews.

Here's what you don't do.  Don't get defensive, don't get dragged into a fight.  Take a cue from both Taco Bell and Sears.  Apologize that the person in question didn't have a good experience with you.  Then move on to talk about your standards, why you believe you provide a quality service and reach out to the offended party.

They may have had a bad day as well and are venting on you.  If you can reach out to that individual, get them to give you another chance, you can soften their stance.  If nothing else, you can stem the tide of vitriol they may be spewing in your direction.  If you can actually flip that person so they retract their previous statements, others will take notice. 

Sometimes, a person just won't meet you halfway.  Again, don't get dragged down into a fight.  If they're one of just a couple of complaints about your organization, point out that you do excellent work, and that the majority of your comments are very positive.  Ultimately, the public will decide who to believe.  The best you can do is promote your qualities as well as you can.

Take The Hit:

Oh, one final thing.  Don't make excuses.  Don't lay the blame at the feet of the employee or staffer, even though that's probably where it belongs.  Customers don't care.  You're the big boss, and the buck stops with you.  You look bad by making excuses and saying, "it was just one employee having a bad day."  That's not acceptable to most consumers. 

Notice that neither Sears nor Taco Bell did this, even when it would have been very easy to do so.  They treated it as an organizational failure. 

The world of social media is a blessing to small businesses and non-profits.  But it can also be risky because whatever people think about your organization, they can post, be it positive or negative.  The best way to combat the negatives and play up the positives is to be active and vigilant in the social media envrionment.  Knowing what's being said about you is the best way to determine how the public percieves you.  A little social media conversation about your business or non-profit can go a long way to impacting your bottom line.

Now, if you'll excuse me, the Rockies scored eight runs yesterday, so I'm off to get my tacos.  I'm brining $2 with me, just in case.

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