When Bad Things Happen to Good Retailers
By Renée M. Covino, Convenience Store News
What you can learn from the recent PR nightmares at Pilot Flying J and 7-Eleven?
Dealing With Digital Assassination
Social media plays a very important role in crisis management today because "most threats to companies in terms of its reputation, brand or business come with a major Internet component, if not via the Internet itself," relayed Richard Torrenzano, chief executive at crisis management firm Torrenzano Group and co-author of "Digital Assassination: Protecting Your Reputation, Brand or Business Against Online Attacks."
While 7-Eleven and Pilot Flying J experienced legitimate legal attacks on a grand scale, they and other retailers must be aware that damaging attacks don't have to come from a major event such as that – and they don't even have to be based on truth, Torrenzano said.
"In the future, which is now, everyone will have their 15 minutes of shame," he cautioned. "From false Wikipedia entries to Yelp attacks, obscene fabricated images to Facebook privacy concerns, [everyone] is at risk of digital assassination."
For companies potentially on the verge of digital assassination, "we talk about it in terms of an eight-hour day," Torrenzano explained. "Basically, when something negative happens on the Internet, companies really have about six to eight hours to decide what they're going to do – pull together HR, PR and legal counsel and if they're smart, an outside [consultant] perspective, because most corporations are not geared to deal with the Internet in that short of a timeframe."
This was proven in the 2009 Domino's Pizza case when two rogue employees did disgusting and unsanitary things to customers' orders on camera and posted it to YouTube. According to Torrenzano, it took almost six digital days – way too late – for the company to respond.
"Their sales were off. Their stock value was off. There were all sorts of legal and other issues and, most importantly, they had to close that store," he said. "These instant attacks happen with lightning speed. They have real penetration and can do real harm if they're not dealt with in a thoughtful way."
Because of the Internet, there is an enormous "power of one" today, even more so than two years ago, according to Torrenzano. For this reason, every customer must be approached with care and respect. This is important not only from the complaining customer's perspective, but other customers will also take note of how you treat a complaining customer – and it will affect their purchasing behavior as well.
"Anybody who is a merchant can have a bad hair day, but that doesn't excuse you from trying to make it right," he said. "There will be legitimate and illegitimate concerns and they don't all have to be addressed in public, but they do have to be addressed with care and respect. You will get much better customer loyalty this way."