Belgian telecom player Telenet has been having a very hard time coping with a pop-up Facebook page criticising the provider for attracting new customers with an iPad mini as a welcome gadget. In less than two days’ time the “Telenet, we loyal customers would also appreciate receiving a gift” Facebook page accumulated more than 110.000 likes, far more than Telenet’s proprietary page ever had.
For us, issue managers and crisis experts, it’s yet another interesting case underlining the power of social media. Did Telenet pick up and manage the sudden reputation crisis in a professional manner? Unfortunately not. When the company announced that they would respond at the end of the day, it was clear that the response would be too little too late. And so it was. But I don’t want to analyse Telenet’s response and missed opportunity to prevent a reputation issue from turning into a business issue. I want to go to the essence of the story.
A rightful claim launched on a newly created Facebook page completely derailed under a wave of frustrations vented by Telenet customers. It was probably not the intention of the creator of the page, a loyal Telenet customer, to kick off such a chain reaction. She merely wanted to make a point about companies attracting new customers with new toys while ignoring existing customers’ concerns and complaints. Mobistar learned a hard lesson in this respect. Now it seems to be Telenet’s turn to learn that customer attraction and attrition should be equally evaluated on service quality and pricing and not be influenced by perks awarded to merely buying the service. Isn’t high quality service for a correct price what all customers – new and existing ones – at the end of the day are really looking for?
Social media platforms are great tools to bring people together and make things move forward for the better. Telenet’s experience unfortunately highlights the vulnerability of B2C companies in this respect. It’s a hard learned lesson about customer relations, as the power of social media can turn an innocent initiative of one individual into a an unforgiving crowd in no time.
It will be interesting to see how Telenet will pick up its customers’ signal and how companies in general will learn from its experience.
I always expect a train to be on time. I don’t know why: trains are usually late. Somehow you think you are better off by train than by car. So when my colleague Molly Verbeeck and I had to go to Amsterdam for the gala of the European Excellence Awards last week, we decided we would go by Thalys: quick, easy and we could get some work done in the meantime. The train left on time – as we expected. But after about an hour, we came to a stand-still. Five minutes later, we were informed via the speakers that something got stuck under the train. We started making silly jokes (I will not repeat them, because they were quite rude and I am only rude amongst friends and colleagues). The crew said they were going to perform a check-up. OK. We could live with that, they were communicating and trying to fix the problem, let’s be confident (communication in 3 languages by the way, not bad). Another 20 minutes later, the voice re-appeared (well, 2 voices really, one for French and Dutch, and one for English). The Dutch voice announced that “rescue teams were on their way”. Huh? I couldn’t help but see an image of a bomb under the train that was about to explode, and I just wanted to get out. Luckily, I also speak English and French, and when the message was repeated in English, I understood that the person speaking Dutch was really not fluent in Dutch and hence didn’t make himself very clear. In fact, he mixed up the words and made it sound very dramatic. The message in English and French was a lot less negative than in Dutch. So I calmed down. Half an hour later however, “The Voice” spoke again and said they would “evacuate” the train. What the hell? So do we get off now in the middle of nowhere? But the doors did not open. Then the lights went out for a couple of minutes. Now THAT was scary. Luckily, a few minutes later (when the lights were on again) the train started moving. We drove into Rotterdam station at a terribly slow pace, where we were “evacuated” and put on another “normal” train. We finally arrived in Amsterdam, two hours later than planned. Bummerrrrr.
So we were terribly late, and that was no fun, but as a communications professional, I was shocked. Communication is everything. A few simple sentences, correctly delivered by the Thalys crew, would have made a big difference. Do not try to speak the language if you are unable to do so, especially in times of uncertainty. Miscommunication can lead to panic situations. It was good they did try to communicate, but trying is not good enough. So dear people at Thalys: please make sure your personnel knows the standard communication procedures. Give them a communications training, or prepare some simple statements. They shouldn’t go into detail, they should just say what they need to say. Correctly. In three languages. How hard can that be?
By Corneel Maes
These days, most international companies have a crisis manual – or are at least aware that they need one. In a global market, where social media can build or kill your reputation, crisis preparedness planning has become a must-have. But then again, too many executives still feel confident that the crisis manual – readily stowed away in their top drawer – is their insurance for handling a crisis successfully. I’ll tell you what happens “if the shit hits the fan”. The precious booklet will be outdated, contact persons and process owners have moved to different positions, procedures have changed, that updated checklist was not included yet. And when was the equipment in the crisis room tested again? Don’t even remember … Conclusion: the crisis manual is dead. No issue really in keeping it buried in that top drawer, it’s useless anyway.
Here are 5 basic rules that will help you keep your crisis manual alive and kicking:
- Appoint an owner for the crisis manual and make that person accountable for its accuracy.
- Do a sanity check of the crisis manual at least once every quarter. Check names, contact details, templates – and don’t forget to update the key figures in the boiler plate after your quarterly results publication.
- Update your stakeholder databases and make sure they are accessible even when the whole ICT network has collapsed.
- Review the decision trees, roles & responsibilities of the crisis team members and escalation guidelines after any major strategic development in your company.
- Last but not least, talk about the existence of the crisis manual within your organization. Make sure it is included in the welcome package for new hires and integrate it into your management development training program.