How to handle difficult customer service situations and bad PR

Running a business means putting yourself out there… and guess what: You’re not going to please everybody. I could fill a book with times that I’ve pissed off customers (when I was an employee and as a business owner). Of course I don’t go out of my way to do it but it happens.

Clients have expectations and they don’t always mesh with what you do. Sometimes it’s your fault; sometimes it’s not your fault.

In spite of what the customer service gurus tell you, the customer isn’t always right and it’s not always possible to bend over backwards to please the customer. Along with keeping your customers happy, you have laws to follow and a profit to make. It’s a fine line.

So when things don’t go well (regardless of who is at fault), it’s helpful to be prepared with responses to the way your customers are likely going to react. Below, I’ve drawn out a spectrum of the most likely reactions a customer might have when things go bad…

THE CUSTOMER REACTION SPECTRUM

To elaborate on the above graphic…

  • Some customers don’t know something went bad.
  • Some customers don’t care; they’re extra forgiving or the situation was just not important enough to them.
  • Some customers care but don’t act… either because it’s just easier to maintain the status quo or because they don’t like conflict or because they think the situation was a one-off and it won’t likely happen again. (There might be other reasons, too.)
  • Some customers act defensively and do something about it to make sure it doesn’t happen to them again.
  • And some customers act vindictively and take a strong stand to make sure you’re aware that the problem occurred and perhaps to warn others away. I think the word “vindictively” might be a little strong but the other word I was going to use (“offensively”) seemed worse.

This is a spectrum, meaning that there are probably degrees of severity, and each of the 5 main points on the spectrum probably have several “sub points” beneath them. For example, someone who acts defensively might just warn you. But someone else (further to the right on the spectrum but still acting defensively) might actually switch to another service provider. And someone who acts vindictively might post something negative on Yelp to warn others. But someone else (further ot the right on the spectrum but still acting vindictively) might sue you.

Your job during a potential PR disaster (or, better yet, while you are contingency planning for these situations), is to look at each of the potential customer reactions along the spectrum and figure out an appropriate response. Some customers might deserve to be compensated. Some customers might just need some communication. And you might have to have to say goodbye to some customers when you simply can’t fix the situation.

It’s important to note that customers can move left and right on this spectrum based on several factors. You need to control those factors (as much as possible; you can’t control everything, though) and do your best to keep your customers from moving too far to the right.

For example, a customer might be in the don’t care part of the spectrum until they realize how much of a problem it is. Or another example: A customer might be in the care but don’t act part of the spectrum if it happens only once. But if it happens repeatedly, they might do something about it.

External factors (often outside of your control) play a part in their reactions, too: A customer might be in the don’t know part of the spectrum until a vindictive customer tells them. Or a customer might be in the care but don’t act part of the spectrum until they discover how easy it is to switch to another service provider.

I should also mention that people move left and right on this scale at different speeds. I don’t move right very quickly but I will eventually move all the way right if necessary. I have peers, though, who seem to live on the right side of this spectrum with every single business they work with.

Okay, now that I’ve explained the spectrum, I’ll give you an example of a negative situation and the customer reactions and the I’ll talk about some of the things you might do for customers in each part of the spectrum…

AN EXAMPLE OF THE CUSTOMER REACTION SPECTRUM

A great example of a recent negative situation, and the spectrum of customer reactions that went with it, is from GoDaddy’s epic fail last month. I don’t know what happened from a technology standpoint but from their customers’ perspectives, it basically seemed like everything (email, websites) went offline for an eternity. (Read about the details from GoDaddy).

So let’s look at the customer reactions to GoDaddy’s temporary offline situation:

  • Some customers don’t know: There were likely a large number of people who didn’t even know it happened. For example, they might have been at work or on vacation or busy doing something else.
  • Some customers don’t care: There were likely a large number of people who don’t care. They shrugged it off as a risk of doing business online.
  • Some customers care but don’t act: There were likely a large number of people were impacted and annoyed or even pissed off, but didn’t act. They maybe felt it was too much hassle to switch or they feel that it probably won’t happen again.
  • Some customers act defensively: There were likely a large number of people who started looking into switching their accounts elsewhere. In fact, a number of people said so on Twitter.
  • Some customers act vindictively: The twitter posts ranged from “I’m moving my service” (which is on the upper end of defensive and on the lower end of vindictive) to things that were far worse. Some asked for compensation. Some cursed. I haven’t looked but I’m sure we could find even stronger reactions elsewhere online.

HOW TO RESPOND TO THE SPECTRUM OF REACTIONS


Sometimes it’s okay to not say anything and see if you got away with it (I’ve worked for a company that used this method all the time!!!) but it can haunt you. So for customers who don’t know, I think it’s best if you let them know proactively. Don’t let them hear it from others. Tell them what happened as concisely as possible but tell them why it’s not a big deal. That’s the most important part. Keep the statement of facts short and truthful and then elaborate on how things are going to happen going forward.


I think there are a lot of companies who ignore this group of people, and instead adopt the belief that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. But for customers who know about the situation yet don’t care, I advise that you do two things: I think you should tell them (in the same way you told the people who didn’t know) but you should also compensate them or reward them for their loyalty. This group isn’t thinking about compensation so they will be surprised to be offered something it this act of generosity can make them even more loyal because it makes you seem like someone who truly cares.


I’m alarmed at how often companies do nothing for these customers. As a consumer, I’ve received a barely sincere “our sincerest apologies” from companies who know that I’ve been inconvenienced by them. This group of people are really on the fence and could leave. This is a key group of people to reach out to. Compensate them! Reward them for their loyalty! Communicate (and even OVER-communicate) with them and let them know why the situation happened and why it will never happen again! Make them feel so special and extra smart for sticking with you while everyone else jumped ship.


This is the group, and the one that follows, often get the most attention from businesses. They’re people who are already on their way out but that loss of revenue or negative feedback becomes the squeaky wheel. Companies pour their compensation into these customers (often at the expense of ignoring all the people on the left side of the spectrum). For this group of people, compensation is definitely a need. But there are other things you can do too: You almost need to go into sales mode to explain why the situation will never happen again, and you need to remind them of the reasons that they first started with you anyway.


Like the previous group of customers, the customers in this category of customer reaction are the squeakiest of wheels. And frankly, at this point in the spectrum, it’s not likely that they are coming back to you. Offering them compensation is debatable. It had better be pretty freaking amazing to get them back, and then you’d better remember that you are “on probation” with them for a long time to come. I don’t think there is much you are going to do for these people. Additionally, your compensation has to be carefully presented because I’ve seen people in this category become indignant that the business is trying to bribe them for their silence. For these customers, I think the best thing to do is thank them for their years of service and let them go.

THE SPECTRUM WORKS FOR ANY NEGATIVE SITUATION

As a business owner, you’ll face innumerable challenges and potentially negative situations — some will be your fault, some won’t be. You can prepare by using this spectrum to anticipate customer reactions and to develop responses to each of those reactions.

The unofficial guide to using Launch.it

When something new comes out and you want to tell your friends about it, how do you present it to them? Do you use the press release format to announce the newsworthy event? Do you use an informational article format to explain what it is? Probably not.

You likely use stories. You tell your friends an enthusiastic, honest, hype-free, factual story about the product or service.

Launch.it is a place for you to tell those stories. It’s a place for new things to launch.

In this guide, you will learn about…

(Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Launch.it in any way nor am I compensated by them to write this. I’m just an enthusiastic user. Also, please note that Launch.it is in beta so this information is subject to change.)
 

LAUNCH.IT: WHERE NEW IS LAUNCHED

Launch.it is a community platform that aims to be a searchable database of everything new. It is not just another place to create the same old content… they are pioneering a new way of communicating brands to the world.

  • On the publishing/promotional side, Launch.it is a place to tell stories about new products and services and ideas: It’s not another press release distribution site; it’s not another article site. Launch.it wants to be a “spin-free zone” where brands tell honest, fact-based, no-hype stories about whatever is new.
  • On the audience/readership side, Launch.it is a place where readers can interact with the brand in multiple ways. It can include sharing on social sites, clicking to the site to make a purchase or learn more, participating in crowdfunding, contacting the brand, and more.

Unlike press releases and articles, Launch.it stories (they call them “launches”) are more social, more focused on action, and they can be updated as facts change. I might not be 100% correct here but it feels like their site is aiming to be more like an engaging magazine that tells interesting, factual stories about new ideas rather than a newspaper that reports only the cold, hard facts.

As a writer, I’m interested in finding stories to cover. As an entrepreneur, I’m interested in telling the stories of new brands I develop. So here is an unofficial, unauthorized guide to launching your brand’s new idea from Launch.it.

LAUNCH.IT

The Launch.it homepage is made up of a few different sections…

  • Across the the top is a menu of high-level categories that launches are filed under — Technology, Consumer Electronics, Fashion, Media, Medical and Pharma, Services, Food and Beverage, Health and Beauty. (There are other categories you can file your launch under but they don’t appear on this list).
  • Below that is a section of the top ten launches. I’m not sure how this is sorted (although I’m guessing it’s by number of visits or number of shares). To the right of these top-10 featured launches is a sidebar that includes a ticker/”odometer” of the number of launches, a featured launch, and a link to Launch.it’s Facebook page.
  • Below that second is a section that lists 60 other launches in a 5 x 12 grid.

INTRODUCTION TO LAUNCH.IT

From the Launch.it homepage (http://launch.it)…

Click the “Sign Up” link to sign up (you can create an account or sign in with LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook). I created my own account.

From then on, click the “Login” link to get to the login page…

Once signed in, you’ll be directed back to the homepage but you’ll have two new links at the top of your page. These are the two main areas you’ll use on Launch.it: The Discoverer Dashboard and the Launcher Dashboard.

Here’s the Discoverer Dasboard:

Although mine doesn’t look very interesting right now (hey, I’m still new to Launch.it), this page is your dashboard to follow industries, writers, and brands, and to save launches for later viewing. Right now I’m following just one industry (Finance) and the launches in that category appear in my news feed.

Keep reading below because I’ll share some ideas about what you can use this dashboard for!

The other dashboard is the Launcher Dashboard…

On this page, you can see at a glance a number of stats about your launches — how many launches, how many views, how many comments and followers, how many stars your launches have earned, plus there are links on the lower half of the page to your launches, to analytics, and more.

Next, I’m going to show you how to launch content on Launch.it. If you are already familiar with that, skip this section and check out some ideas to use Launch.it to find stories or ideas to use Launch.it to launch your own news.

HOW TO LAUNCH ON LAUNCH.IT

From the Launcher Dashboard, click the great big button in the middle that says “new”…

And the next page you’ll get to is the page to create your launch story…

On this page…

Choose your byline from the drop-down menu. (It might be you or it might be other writers you’ve created, for example if you have several on staff who are sharing the same account).

Choose your brand from the drop-down menu. You can select your own brand (if you’re writing stories for your brand) or you can add new brands (if you own several brands or are a marketing firm).

Write your headline. Although the title can be pretty long, I would suggest that you try to keep it short because only the first 34-37 words will be displayed if your launch becomes featured. Check out the example below to see what I mean. Notice how the title is cut off a little? It’s not the end of the world, of course, but I think it would be more powerful if someone could read your entire title. So 34-37 words is the rule of thumb.

Write your subheading. Your subheading isn’t a reiteration of your headline but should instead provide additional information or context. Also note: Your subheading only shows up when someone views the blurb on its own page (it doesn’t show up in the condensed view on the home page) so make sure that the information is helpful but not essential to understanding your launch.

Write the body of your launch. This is the main content. I’m not sure how much space you have but presumably you have enough to get the story across. I would suggest aiming for a minimum of 400 words and a maximum of 1500 words. Too little and you’ll end up not getting your point across; too much and you’ll lose your readers. For more information, Launch.it provides a brief but helpful guide.

Note: Another important thing to consider is the length of your first paragraph. If your launch becomes one of the top ten featured stories, they will post the first part of your first paragraph (about the first 40 words or so) so make sure you create good content in that first paragraph. Check out the first paragraph of the launch below as an example:

Select your industry. There are several to choose from. Pick one that makes the most sense.

Write your key message bullet points. These will appear in the sidebar of your story. I’m not sure how many you get to write. I wrote 3. I’ve seen 5. I think 3-5 is a good, digestible number for your readers.

Upload your lead image. Make your image 680×490. The image will appear in different sizes but always in that ratio. In some places, the image will be only about 27% of of the larger size (approximately 186 x 132) so make sure that your image is recognizable at that size too.

Add advanced features. Definitely add advanced features if you have them! These include video, links for buying/fundraising/contacting you, more images, etc. The more you add, the more visually attractive and engaging your content becomes. When it comes to interaction, select as many as you can — Give them a place to click to visit your website and a way to contact you.

Once you have filled everything out, you can save, preview, and publish your launch story and it goes immediately to the home page of Launch.it. Later, you can always go back to review and edit your launch story from the Launch Dashboard.

HOW TO EDIT YOUR LAUNCH

Once you have a launch launched, you can edit it. I love this feature of Launch.it because (unlike press releases and some article publishing sites) information changes and you should be able to go back and update it. To edit your launch story, go to your Launcher Dashboard and at the top of the page, click the button labelled “Launches”…

(Note: There are other places on the page where you can click to view your launches but as of this writing, this is the only button that gets you to a place to edit your launches).

On this page, you’ll see the launches you have published, as well as links to edit, view, unpublish, and get analytics.

IDEAS TO USE THE DISCOVERER DASHBOARD

The Discoverer Dashboard is useful to filter the growing number of launches to keep track of what is important to you.

I love the idea of being able to follow industries, writers, and brands. I’m planning to use the Discoverer Dashboard in the following ways:

  • As a business, finance, and real estate writer, I’m going to follow related industries to pay attention to what’s going on in each space. The dashboard gives me the ability to filter by industry so I can quickly scan on a regular basis to find new ideas and trends.
  • As a writer, I’m always interested in connecting with other writers and learning how they are covering stories. This will give me a chance to meet experts in specific fields.
  • As a writer, I want to follow specific brands to see how they grow. They might be part of a story or trend I’m following or a competitor for one of the businesses I own, or the next big thing that I want to learn more about if I’m looking for a great idea for an article.

IDEAS TO LAUNCH ON LAUNCH.IT


The Launcher Dashboard is where you create content to engage with your audiences about your new idea, brand, product, service, or whatever. So here are some ideas you can launch with:

  • Launch your new brand
  • Launch each product or service
  • Launch new versions of products and services
  • Launch the latest version of your website
  • Launch your mobile app
  • Launch your new store
  • Launch your new Facebook page, Twitter profile, etc.
  • Launch a news story about you (Remember: This isn’t a press release but you can still create a story about what’s new at your business)
  • Launch your email newsletter
  • Launch sub-brands
  • Launch partnerships and joint ventures
  • Launch your blog
  • Launch individual blog posts (within reason, of course! I’m not suggesting that you spam Launch.it but there are times when an individual blog post is worth launching)
  • Launch a free report
  • Launch your ebook
  • Launch your print book
  • Launch your new location
  • Launch a story about that big project you landed
  • Launch when a new executive joins your team
  • Launch when you develop a new innovation
  • Launch a story that you hope to get some exposure about (we writers are watching!)
  • Launch your latest project for which you want investors/crowdfunders

So go Launch.it!

QUICK LINKS

Website: Launch.it
Twitter: @Launch_It
Facebook: LaunchItNews

How to be the “celebrity chef” of your niche

I am secretly addicted to the Food Network. (Okay, not so secretly anymore).

I love cooking competitions and restaurant makeover shows. My PVR is set up to automatically record shows like “Opening Soon”, “Kitchen Nightmares”, and “Restaurant Impossible”.

Many of these shows have one thing in common: A celebrity chef who seems to be equal parts chef and diva.

You don’t really see this level of celebrity in other niches. (Well, there are some celebrity real estate agents and celebrity home renovation people but we don’t attach the word “celebrity” to their title in the same way that we throw around the word “celebrity chef”.)

I was thinking about this the other day while watching some cooking show or another. I wondered: “Why don’t we see more celebrity real estate agents or celebrity real estate investors or celebrity financial advisors or celebrity accountants?

That idea sort of seems strange. After all, “celebrity accountant” or “celebrity actuary” or “celebrity insurance broker” doesn’t seem to have the same ring as “celebrity chef”… but why not?

Why can’t YOU be the celebrity in your niche? There is plenty of room for celebrities in a number of niches – real estate, investing, insurance, accounting, even collections.

The benefit is there: As a celebrity, you attract people to you who want to orbit your shining star and your constant cross-promotion helps to increase your income.

So what does it take to be a celebrity? Well, let’s look at the six factors that put the “celebrity” into “celebrity chef” and see if we can identify some lessons for you to apply to your practice:

6 FACTORS TO HELP YOU BECOME A CELEBRITY IN YOUR NICHE

  1. You need to be skilled. No hacks allowed. We may not always like the celebrity personality of a celebrity chef but the chef-skills always deliver. Great cooking every time. And it’s not just skill, I think, but also mastery, and a dedication to exacting excellence. How can you become a skilled master who is dedicated to exacting excellence in your market? You need to be able to rise above and consistently out-shine your peers. So what skills can you hone to consistently out-shine your peers? For a related post, check out: What the drunk uncle from Family Ties can teach us about success.
  2. Success. Some celebrity chefs seem to come out of nowhere to skyrocket to fame and fortune. But “nowhere” usually means that they were slogging it out in a hot kitchen, working their way up from lowly dishwasher to become the head chef at top-name restaurants. In your practice, don’t expect celebrity to suddenly appear out of nowhere. You need to put in the time, grind it out, and build a portfolio of success. (Fortunately, you can do this as the same time as you develop your skills).
  3. You need to have some flair. I don’t think there is such a thing as a bland celebrity chef. All celebrity chefs bring something extra to the equation. They’re skilled (see above) but they are more than just skilled. For some, it’s a personality – funny, obnoxious, in-your-face. For others, it’s a particular style or approach – hands-on, innovative, social. (For celebrity chefs it might be fast meals for families or Italian peasant food). To develop your own flair, consider what aspects of your personality are the strongest, or think about your interests and how other people connect with them. This flair or unique approach really becomes the crux of your brand. (Think: Gordon Ramsay’s In-Your-Face approach or Jamie Oliver’s casual approach to delicious, healthy food). I’ve talked a bit about this in the past but I’ve only scratched the surface. For a related post, check out: What is your brand’s personality.
  4. A book. Every celebrity chef seems to have at least one book. Probably a cookbook. Probably a dozen cookbooks. A book on its own isn’t the answer but it’s part of the celebrity equation. The good news is, you don’t need to sit down and write a huge novel. What you need is something that you can highlight as an accomplishment and that readers will find helpful. Start with a 100 to 200 page book. They aren’t that hard to write! (Hey, give me a call if you want to talk about writing a book). If you’re really not sure where to start, why not think about an ebook – something smallish at around 50 pages – and test it in the marketplace. Expanding it will be easy and it’s simple to turn into a print book (which still carries plenty of credibility).
  5. TV show. Every celebrity chef has a TV show. Or three. They have a cooking show and guest appearances, an I’m-starting-a-restaurant show, and a traveling-the-world-to-taste-food show. Why don’t you have a show? You can. It’s easier than you probably think it is. Start with your own YouTube channel and instead of just filming random thoughts into the camera (as I do from time to time on my YouTube channel), actually treat it like your own show. I think this is a cool idea that is under-used (especially in the financial or real estate space). There are plenty of ideas to draw from (and I’ll give you some ideas in a future blog post).
  6. PR Campaign. Celebrity chefs seem to be magnets for fans. Sure, it’s their charisma and great dishes but don’t overlook the fact that they are a brand and they probably have a serious PR engine chugging away in the background. When they are not cooking they are promoting, promoting, promoting, promoting, promoting. For most of you, you’re already doing some promoting already (good!) but if you want to achieve celebrity status, you need to tie together several things (a book, a show, etc.) and promote the heck out of it.

Notice something about these six things? Chefs who move out of the kitchen and into the limelight do so by leveraging their skills into a brand and then leveraging that brand into a media empire.

You can do the same! Celebrity doesn’t have to be limited to chefs. There is A LOT of room for celebrities in your market. You already have the skills and you probably have a brand (or the makings of one). Next, build a media empire to skyrocket your practice to celebrity status.