First, FedEx gets slammed when a delivery guy tosses a package over a customer’s fence. The customer posts a video of his monitor clearing the uprights on YouTube. At last count 6.3 million people had watched it. Mentions on Twitter and other social media were running at one every 25 seconds.
The right response
FedEx’s response was – true to form – delivered overnight. By lunchtime the next day, FedEx had issued this four-part tweet:
- “We saw the video and quite frankly were shocked.
- This was careless treatment of a customer package by our courier and will be addressed.
- We take pride in the quality of service we provide to millions of customers daily. We will not tolerate any irresponsible act that affects the quality of any item we deliver.
- Such irresponsibility is contrary to the good reputation FedEx is known for worldwide.”
Pretty close to perfect, though I would have added an apology to the first tweet.
Fighting video with video
Then on day two, FedEx posted a statement on its website and an excellent video on its blog and YouTube. Tweets and Facebook postings linked to the video, which featured a sincere senior VP:
- Expressing embarrassment
- Relating how the issue has been resolved with the customer
- Protecting the idiot employee’s privacy, while pointing out he’s “not delivering customer packages.”
- Describing how the incident is being used as a training tool to avoid repeats
Getting it right
FedEx’s common sense handling of this situation follows the key principles of effective crisis communications:
- Respond quickly
- Acknowledge the problem
- Apologize without making excuses
- Resolve any harm (or describe what you’re doing towards that end)
- Describe how you’ll prevent future occurrences
Getting it wrong
Now contrast FedEx’s handling of its crisis with the debacle at Best Buy.
Just days before Christmas, Best Buy began notifying some customers that they would not be receiving items they ordered online on Black Friday and Thanksgiving weekend. The reason: overwhelming demand for some very popular products depleted their inventories.
Enraged customers lit up the company’s online forum with comments like:
- “Best Buy's order cancellation has really taken the wind out of our 'Christmas" sail. I truly don't know what I can say to my kids unless they honor our order.”
- “We used to spend a great deal of money with this company but I think from now on we'll stick with Amazon.com.”
- “I will never spend another dime at Best Buy and will make sure all my family and friends know it as well! Best Buy sucks!”
The wrong responses
One customer reported receiving this email from Best Buy:
“Thank you for contacting Best Buy! I am sorry your order was canceled. This item was no longer available. Your receipt of an electronic or other form of order confirmation does not signify our acceptance of your order, nor does it constitute confirmation of our offer to sell. The Best Buy Web site reserves the right at any time after receipt of your order to accept or decline your order for any reason.”
You’d think the world’s largest electronics retailer would know that it’s not a good idea to point out the fine print on your website that says it’s perfectly legal for you to screw up customers’ Christmases. But I guess not.
The Best Buy story has been reported by hundreds of news organizations including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Time magazine, Financial Times, San Francisco Chronicle – you get the picture: everywhere.
And how has Best Buy responded publicly? Hardly at all. The company issued this statement to a local television station in Minneapolis (home to its corporate headquarters):
"This was a rare situation based on a high volume of orders over a short period of time," said company spokeswoman Susan Busch. "There was an unacceptable delay between order confirmations and cancellations, and for that we are very sorry."
Best Buy says only about one percent of orders placed Thanksgiving weekend were cancelled, and that affected customers are being given gift cards.
That’s it? Unfortunately, yes. There’s nothing on the Best Buy website, Facebook page, Twitter, CEO’s blog, or anywhere else.
Best Buy is following the crisis response recipe for disaster:
- Respond slowly
- Don’t admit that mistakes were made
- Do make excuses before you apologize
- Say nothing about preventing future occurrences
And both incidents have further proven two crisis communications truths:
- A crisis can strike any organization in a blink of an eye. This was one FedEx employee out of nearly 300,000 screwing up one delivery to a customer who just happened to being videotaping arrivals at his front door. Think about that the next time you comfort yourself with something along the lines of, “What are the odds it’ll happen to us?”
- If you have a crisis communications plan, and you’ve practiced putting that plan into action, you can come out of a bad situation with flying colors.
If not, prepare yourself for some very unhappy holidays.