KFC_logoEvery time I think of bad PR situations, I remember KFC and its chicken-brain snafu. To shorten that story, a KFC customer was served a piece of chicken that looked for all the world like a brain. I’m sure it wasn’t a finger-licking good moment, and the customer snapped a picture of the brain lookalike. The picture circulated on the Internet, costing KFC not only the customer’s patronage, but also the public goodwill.

Now what does that example illustrate? In simple terms, it’s a bad situation. But then, what if bad situations don’t have to remain bad? What if you could turn bad PR into good?

That process of reversal is exactly what I’m about to teach you in this post. Afterwards, you’ll see examples to help the concepts and process stick in your mind. Ready? Read on.

Reversing Bad PR

Monitor bad situations.

There’s no point in reversing bad situations you don’t even know about. You certainly won't have a chance to turn things around if you’ve got no clue when and where your company's getting flamed. For this reason, you’re well-served by staying in the know.

Use Google Alerts, monitor support forums, and keep an eye on social media. Have someone whose job it is to spot problems. Once the area of concern’s been found, move to the next step in the process.

Respond quickly, respond smart.

As soon as you see a problem, categorize it and route it to the correct teams for action. If it's technical, get the techies on it. If it's a problem with shipping or packaging woes, route it to your fulfillment team.

And of course, always teach those who respond to respond smart. Don't let them argue with a customer or go wacko, no matter how problematic the customer may be. It's your company’s job to keep cool, acknowledge the customer’s problem, and own the responsibility for a solution.

Push the limits of customer service.

When you are in solution mode, ask yourself how far you're willing to go to make the situation right.

Since customers are unfortunately used to bad treatment, any good treatment’s gonna stick in their minds. So for example, if your customer ordered something and it's accidentally out of stock, tell them quickly. Then, be the first to offer a replacement product, or refund their money.

(And for the love of God, if you want to sound like an actual human being who cares, tell the customer that you’re sorry flat out - don't use canned lines like “we apologize for any inconvenience!”)

Couched in more general terms, don't wait for the customer to come up with a solution to the problem.

Offer the solution yourself, or if you really want to impress, come up with multiple solutions.

In fact, actively think about what you'll do when bad situations come up. For example, if X situation comes up (e.g. no stock) the solution is Y process (e.g. offering a replacement or refund). The more automatic this response system becomes, the more you'll ingrain excellent customer service into company values.

Don't just focus on the bad.

I know I said that this is about turning bad situations into marketing opportunities, but highlighting the good is also a key strategy. You have to take every opportunity available to build goodwill.

You can retweet customer testimonials coming in through Twitter, respond to FB posts, or interact with comments on the company blog. If particularly happy customers send in long testimonials or commendations through e-mail, ask for permission to post it on the site.

Examples of Reversal

Amazon and Me (Respond quickly and respond smart, plus push the limits of service.)

Amazon.com-LogoI once contacted Amazon customer support since I was having book purchasing issues with my Kindle. I expected some line that they were going to work with me to solve the problem, but I wasn’t fed a single script. The rep assigned immediately drew up my purchase history, inquired when the problem started, and intelligently worked to gather facts about my situation.

Not once was she confrontational or in any way condescending. Plus, she tagged my problem as a priority for technical support, and even helped with some preliminary troubleshooting. In fact, she eventually solved the problem and the priority tag didn’t even become necessary!

It still stands out to me as an experience, and I’m a very loyal Amazon customer.

Zappos and a Customer (Pushing the limits of service.)

Zappos_logo_colorOne of the many examples of their famous dedication to customer service involves a rep who physically went to a rival shoe store in order to provide the right pair of shoes for a woman since the company had run out of its own stock. Yet again, this extra-mile action prevented what could have been bad PR and the loss of a customer.

Another Zappos example involved overnighting a free pair of shoes to a best man who arrived at the wedding shoeless. This is pushing the limits at its best - a company making proactive, strong moves to reinforce its philosophy that the customer is at the heart of the company.

If I had to reduce this to a short set of words, this is it. Just stay in the know, respond like a human, and go the extra mile. This is simple in theory, but seeing the sorry state of customer service in most companies proves the difficulty of practice. So if you’re aiming to build a company with happy customers, keep this in mind!