How not to do damage limitation on Facebook

Facebook damage limitationThis morning’s question is this: You’re a major corporation. One of your customers suffers the tragic loss of a child. What do you do?

The supplemental is this: Suppose your response to question one isn’t great. The customer is frustrated and now the story is going viral on Facebook. Real-time damage limitation is needed. Your actions in the next few minutes can either enhance or damage your reputation. What do you do now?

Peter Fitchett is a name I had not heard before yesterday. However, in the last twelve hours, many people like me around the globe have been introduced to him. Mr Fitchett tragically lost his 14 year old son recently. Having buried the child, he then began the sad round of administrative activity that we associate with any death in the modern era, and part of that was the cancelling of a mobile phone contract with EE.

The response from EE was not as sympathetic as he would have liked, and after an email exchange with the company, his frustration led him to reproduce that same email exchange on his Facebook feed at 4.25pm yesterday, UK time.

Peter’s Facebook feed tells the story, here.

Peter then posted on Facebook at 7.02pm UK time that EE had been in touch again, and would be phoning him in the morning to resolve the problem.

The first response from EE was bad enough, but the  second response demonstrates to me that even an organisation like EE just doesn’t get it.

EE clearly knew there was an escalating problem at 7pm last night – they contacted Peter. We must assume that they knew of Peter’s Facebook posting of the email exchange, and in fact it’s probable that the Facebook posting was what triggered the call. They must have known that there was damage limitation to do.

EE’s UK staff have clearly taken the view that they would deal with it in the morning. Unfortunately for EE, the cat is out of the bag. Facebook is global, and so we have now had twelve hours of this page being shared all over the globe. With every share, a piece of EE’s reputation gets damaged. I hope everybody at EE slept well.

Even as I write, the piece is spreading, and this is despite Peter’s requests not to Tweet or share the piece now. With every share, more damage..

So what should EE have done?

First, any organisation I have run would have been more sympathetic to the original request, but let’s put that aside for a moment, and deal with damage limitation. What should EE have done when they spotted that this story was on Facebook and going viral?Well I would have done two things:

  1. I would have had somebody senior personally phone Mr Fitchett there and then, with authorisation to do whatever was necessary to resolve the issue and if possible reassure Mr Fitchett that the company cared about his situation and was looking to help.
  2. I would have had that same person or somebody equivalently senior respond on the Facebook feed with an apology, and a commitment to resolve – maybe even confirmation of the resolution discussed on the phone. This should have happened just after the phone call.

Mr Fitchett has been remarkably calm in his frustration –  I know many who would have been far more aggressive in spreading the word overnight. Even so, the damage to EE’s reputation continues, and the company has provided a textbook example of how not to do damage limitation on Facebook.

There are many examples out there of organisations addressing customer problems head on and turning dissatisfied and vocal customers into delighted and equally vocal ones who became brand advocates.

It’s not difficult to do, but it does demand that somebody in the organisation cares, and that they are thinking. Instead, we have had sixteen hours of the word being spread, and I will bet that the PR office at EE has a busy day ahead.

Update: Mr Fitchett has posted on Facebook at lunchtime that the situation is now resolved. The damage to EE’s reputation, however, is done.