Deborah Sweeney: What you need to know when your company screws up

Few brands have forgotten about the waves created by the 2009 debut of “United Breaks Guitars.” The video was made by musician Dave Carroll who was upset about United Airlines breaking his guitar on a flight from Chicago to Omaha, Neb.

When it went viral, it cost the airline countless customers. How many customers? The Huffington Post estimated through the 4 million users who viewed the video, that it was about $180 million worth, or 10 percent of their market cap.

In response to the video, United apologized, complimented the song and even asked to use it for future internal training. They assured Carroll that because of the incident they were changing their customer service policy. But even with their apology and promise to change, United’s image never fully recovered.

So what do you do in the age of social media when you get a customer complaint that goes viral faster than the average criticism, and reaches a good portion of your audience and beyond, painting your brand in a bad light?

Here are three tips on how to handle the situation gracefully and recover with your reputation intact:


Don’t delete anything!

If your complaint comes in the form of an online public comment, don’t delete it. It’s so easy to just delete a comment from Facebook or a tweet that you don’t want too many eyes to see. But by the time you delete it, someone’s already taken a screenshot of it and circulated it through retweets and on Tumblr.

This makes your brand look even worse, like you’re desperately trying to cover your tracks. Instead, keep the comment up and respond promptly — though not so quickly that you make errors in grammar and false information alike.


Admit it was your fault, and make it public

So now you have a public complaint that you haven’t deleted and a public, quick response all ready to go. Not only should you respond on whatever medium the complaint is on, but if it’s a large enough mistake on your part, publicly make an additional statement in the form of a press release, blog post, video or some other outlet that presents the ability to make a grander than usual gesture. 

Be sure to include what it is you’ve done. Acknowledge that the incident was your fault, how you can learn from the experience and what you can do to make it up to the customer. Being honest and genuine about the problem will always win over backtracking and denying that you’re at any fault to begin with.


Offer what you can

Whether you’re an international airline or a local mom and pop shop, don’t let an unhappy customer leave your place of business as an unhappy customer. By the time you’ve handled the situation personally, your customer should have a smile on his or her face and something positive to say about your business. If that means offering a free product or service, it’s a meaningful gesture to provide to keep the reputation of your brand on the up and up.

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start — up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services.


Learn more about Deborah Sweeney:

Twitter: @DeborahSweeney
Twitter: @MyCorporation