Often it takes nothing more than honesty to garner large shares of good will from stakeholders. Despite how vicious initial responses can be, people are surprisingly willing to forgive even major mistakes if they receive an apology and a simple explanation as to how the issue will be prevented in the future. In an interview for B to B Magazine, Jet Blue director of corporate communications Jenny Dervin explained how her organization has utilized this strategy with great success:
“The first was an ice storm that took place in 2007 in New York,” Dervin said. “Other airlines stopped flying, but JetBlue did not. We were only seven years old. Our operational decisions hadn’t yet caught up with our size, and we were caught with our pants down.”
Dervin said the company worked to fix that blot on its reputation with email notes of apology to every one of its customers, and it announced a customer bill of rights detailing compensation in the event of future problems.
“We got out in front and asked people to forgive us,” Dervin said. “It got to the point where reporters asked when we would stop apologizing. But it’s important to realize that customers want to hear an explanation only after you apologize.”
That early PR problem prompted JetBlue to become a devotee of social media to keep track of any issues that might be brewing. The company now maintains an early warning system that is Twitter-based. A full-time staff of 17 employees monitors all mentions of the company on the microblogging site. Top executives receive reports on the most prominent positive and negative comments each day.
The company’s embrace of social media paid off in February 2010, when it faced the prospect of another winter storm.
“This time we decided to pull operations and used social media through our official blog,” Dervin said. The company explained its situation and posted links to content explaining how weather was affecting aviation, which resulted in 250,000 impressions.
“You build good will during daily engagement with customers, and then cash it in when you need to,” Dervin said.
One thing many of these community-engagement stories have in common is the organization’s use of social media. Obviously smaller businesses don’t need a full time staff to monitor this arena, setting automated alerts and devoting a small amount of time daily will yield many opportunities to connect and communicate with stakeholders on a personal, yet public, basis.
For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
[Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. , an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training.]