Could a social media customer service crisis happen to your company? United Airlines seems to be in ongoing hot water with consumers this month, after video showed up on social media of a passenger being forcibly removed from an overbooked flight and a scorpion fell from the overhead bin and stung another passenger a week later. The stories are appearing and re-appearing in consumers’ social streams and Twitter is lit up with memes and suggestions for new mottoes for the airline.

So what should you do if you experience a service misstep that catches fire on social media and you’re embroiled in a full-on customer service crisis?

Get in front of the crisis with a video message.

If the company CEO (or alternate senior executive) is trained for media appearances – and they should be – shoot a video as quickly as possible. Distribute it via email and social media. This face-to-face approach creates connection. At the end of the video, give consumers a way to share their opinions with you directly.

Apologize immediately.

Making a preliminary apology, even when you don’t know exactly what happened, can be very effective for calming down angry consumers. Acknowledging the upset is critical. For example, try something like this:

“This was an upsetting event. It was not the experience we want for our customers. I apologize on behalf of <company name>. Right now we are reaching out to the customer involved and investigating the details around this incident. Please know that we are taking this matter seriously and will update you in the next few days. We’re going to do everything we can to ensure something like this never happens again.”

Be transparent.

Consumers want to know if this customer service crisis is a result of how things are done “behind the scenes.” Explain what you know and what you’re doing to prevent it from happening again. If you don’t know exactly what happened yet, say that. Once you know what happened and how you’ll prevent it from happening again, share that, too. Keep in regular communication with your audiences so they know that you care.

Include all the players on your customer service crisis management team.

You do have one, don’t you? Crisis management requires input from a variety of stakeholders and experts. For example, public relations will bring a different point of view from legal, which will be different from that of someone from consumer services. Bringing together a diverse team with varied experience helps ensure that you don’t just come up with any response, you come up with the right response.

Solve the problem.

When a customer service crisis happens, it points to a problem that needs a resolution. Conduct a thorough investigation and use the results to institute targeted service training and/or new customer-friendly procedures.

What about you? Do you have an emergency response team in place? Have you discussed how you would manage a social media uproar?



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Customer Service was stellar at this McDonald’s restaurant!

Small details make a big difference in customer service and with a little extra effort, you can create a memorable experience for your customers.

This was proven last week, when my husband and I spent a bit of time on the road between our home and mid-Michigan. My husband is a bee keeper and it’s bee season. During a four-week period every spring, bee keepers pick up their bee supplies and pounds of the insects from the “bee farmer”, to restock their hives. We had a casualty with one of our queens, so we took two trips to see the bee farm in as many days.

The road time means fast food and we typically stop a few times on each trip. Wendy’s, McDonald’s or Arby’s are the usual choices and in the last week, we’ve stopped four times for coffee, restroom stops and lunch. And since the fast food experience is typically pretty cookie-cutter, we don’t expect much in the way of customer service and most of the stops aren’t very memorable. One place surprised us, though, due to the small niceties we noticed.

It was a 24-hour McDonald’s in the middle of nowhere. It was clean, their menus were shown on new high-tech video screens. The cashier was friendly and efficient. We ordered breakfast sandwiches, along with coffee with “a tiny bit of extra ice in it” to get it to a drinkable temperature. We paid for the order and she gave us a numbered sign. “Put this on the table and we’ll bring your food out to you when it’s ready.”

Okay, that was unusual and nice. We got our drinks and sat down to talk and peruse our emails. A few minutes later, a woman came out with our tray. The two coffees were accompanied by a small cup of ice, so we could decide exactly how much we wanted to put in the cup. That was nice, too.

And the server? She was attentive and had brought napkins, straws and utensils, in case we needed them. “If you need anything else, I’ll be right behind the counter,” she told me as she left us to our breakfast.

The customer service experience stuck with me, as the niceties were such small things, yet they made it feel like this McDonald’s was different and special. The franchise owner obviously knew something about customer service and repeat business, along with how to make his store stand out from others. And it worked. We’ll be visiting the bee farm for years to come and we’ll make this particular fast food restaurant a regular stop.

How can you bring some memorable extras to your customer experience? Easy! Try the tips below and see how your customers respond.

Standardize your processes. Do your customer-facing staff members know the importance of each step of service? If not, create a document that spells out each step and why it’s important. That could mean saying “hello” as soon as the customer walks through the door, asking if there is anything else you can do for them before ending a call, or asking for feedback at the end of each transaction. When you create a process for each customer touchpoint, you’re ensuring that nothing is missed and your customers get the best possible service.

Train your staff. Employees come to you with a wide range of experiences. It’s difficult to know what they know. Training them ensures that they know everything they should know in order to serve your customers at the highest levels. You can do this in team meetings, through online training courses and other methods. Make training something you “just do” and your customers and staff will both benefit.

Treat your servers well. In fact, treat all of your staff well, no matter what position they hold. The old adage about your staff treating your customers like you treat your staff rings true. Demonstrating the behavior, repeatedly no matter how stressful things feel, can help make kindness and positive enthusiasm a part of your company culture.

What do you do? How do you ensure your service makes your business stand out from your competition?