FedEx's response to one of its employees chucking a customer's computer monitor over a six-foot fence shows how your company should respond to a PR disaster.
If you haven't seen it yet, here's a 21-second video that'll make your blood boil. And no, it's not a joke.
It's pretty much as simple as it looks: A California FedEx delivery guy walks up to the customer's gate. Without hesitating, he throws the box—which contained a computer monitor—over the customer's six-foot wrought-iron fence. Then he turns around, and walks back to the truck. "The sad part is that I was home at the time with the front door wide open," writes the video's uploader, who has chosen to remain anonymous. "All he would have had to do was ring the bell on the gate. Now I have to return my monitor since it is broken."
Within two days, the video received more than 4 million page views on YouTube, generated 17,000 comments detailing other customers' FedEx horror stories, and captured headlines from pretty much all the major news outlets.
"When a video like this comes out, it starts this "geek-alanche" of online comments of people saying, "Yeah, we experienced this too," says Scott Stratten, president of Un-Marketing, a social and viral marketing consultancy based in Ontario.
Even though this driver was just one employee among some 290,000 FedEx employees, the viral video created a veritable PR nightmare for FedEx—during one of their busiest times of the year.
In a blog post titled "Absolutely, Positively Unacceptable," Matthew Thornton III, the senior VP of U.S. operations for FedEx Express, addressed the video.
"As the leader of our pickup and delivery operations across America, I want you to know that I was upset, embarrassed, and very sorry for our customer's poor experience," he said. "This goes directly against everything we have always taught our people and expect of them. It was just very disappointing."
While it's still fresh, it's probably a good time for a refresher course on Public Relations 101—or, maybe more aptly, how you can handle a PR disaster like this one.
Step 1: Don't ignore it.
The worst thing you can do in this situation is to completely ignore the mistake. Had FedEx pretended not to have seen the video (or worse, not to have cared), customers would have been even more outraged.
"You have to respond," says Marilyn DeMartini, president of Fort Lauderdale-based PR Power. "Every major company has been in this position at one time or another. There's nothing people hate more than 'No comment.' Own up, take responsibility, and do the right thing."
Step 2: Explain how you are handling it.
When your customer knows you've done something wrong, the first thing they'll want to know is how you're handling it. Did you make ammends with the customer? Did the employee get fired? What was the follow-up?
In its blog response, FedEx explained that they "have met with the customer face-to-face and they already have a replacement monitor at no cost to them." The company also assured customers that this particular employee in the video was no longer delivering packages, but would not comment more specifically.
Scott Stratten says this was a near-perfect response: It let customers know that the monitor was replaced, an apology was offered, and that the employee was off his route.
"When the sh** hits the fan, it's not time to hide behind the fan," he says. "It's time to be amazing. You can recover from it. The video didn't hurt FedEx as much as people think it did. We know there are some jerk delivery drivers out there, and it's a black eye for the company, but i think their apology made up for it."
Step 3: Reiterate the true values of your company.
Even when you mess up, each time you adress your customers is an opportunity to remind them how much you care.
"Something like this gives you an opportunity to reiterate your values or your mission statement or whatever is important to you as a company," says DeMartini.
In its statement, FedEx explained that they were turning this into a learning example for future employees to make sure it would never happen again: "While this delivery fell way short of those high standards, we are already using it as a learning opportunity," wrote Thornton. "We've shared this video internally to remind everyone that every single package is important to you, our customers, and that actions like this are totally unacceptable."
Step 4: Move on!
Sure, you're likely to get some bad press from time to time. You may even lose some customers over a gaffe like this one. But the only thing worse than not addressing the isssue would be to linger on it.
"You do the positive things that continue to show customers you care, you address it, and then you move on," says DeMartini. "Maybe you beef up your advertising campaign. Maybe you adjust your marketing. But you have to let it go."