Many business leaders find it hard to think about relationship management when things go well, and often expect the relationships they’ve established to continue at a steady pace. Whether due to inaction, chance, or poor planning, however, once-strong relationships can end up in jeopardy almost without warning. What distinguishes an okay business from a great one, then, is maintaining a healthy relationship with your fans even when something goes wrong.
Check out these examples of relationship management crises from years past. Some provide nearly a how-to manual for good customer relationship management, while others prove that slow action can lead to a loss of goodwill that may have taken years to build. Trust is something that you should not take lightly with your contacts, and maintaining it should be a top priority in any relationship management strategy.
British Petroleum: Deepwater Oil Spill
In 2010, British Petroleum experienced a massive oil spill at a rig owned by drilling contractor Transocean. The organization’s response to the oil spill left many of their stakeholders feeling that the company had been disingenuous in past environmental efforts. PR experts criticized the company for its “impersonal” and “tone-deaf” messages, both regarding personal concerns in the Gulf and its own declining stock price. The company also initially tried to deflect responsibility entirely onto Transocean, drawing further criticism.
The long-term results of the crisis, however, were minimal. The company’s overall sales to their clients were barely harmed by the crisis, as BP primarily sells to a wide range of other companies, rather than directly to the consumers who felt BP had done wrong.
BP’s handling of its spill teaches anyone involved in relationship management one thing: take responsibility. Whether a product performs under par or a department totally ignores a major segment of your market, own your mistakes. Your customers will appreciate the honesty, especially if you put effort into making things right.
Electronic Arts: Criticized as the Worst Company in America
Minor relationship management issues, if left unattended, can compound on themselves. In 2012, video game manufacturer Electronic Arts earned the dubious distinction of being voted the so-called “Worst Company in America,” beating out other unpopular names like Bank of America, Comcast, and Chase. Those pushing EA to its victory had many complaints, ranging from an unsatisfying conclusion to one of the company’s long-running franchises to predatory digital rights management practices.
While EA did make efforts to address some of these complaints through modifications and downloadable content for the company’s products, their customers and industry critics saw these efforts as too little, too late, and new EA products continued to have the same issues. As a result, EA earned a second “Worst Company in America” designation the following year.
Despite its numerous beloved franchises, EA couldn’t maintain its customers’ faith, and its image has suffered for it. The lesson here is straightforward enough: listen to customers, respond to them in a thoughtful manner, and stick with changes. Telling a sales lead you’ll develop a solution and not following through or dismissing the concerns of longtime customers can, over time, cost you both old and new business.
Pepsi: Foreign Objects
Sometimes, a crisis comes entirely from external forces. In the early 1990s, a pair of Washington state residents left a can of Diet Pepsi out overnight, and upon returning to the drink, found a syringe inside. After making a call to their lawyer, who in turn notified the media and the authorities, Pepsi found itself with a tampering scandal on its hands. Foreign objects, over the course of the following weeks, were reported in Pepsi cans across the country.
Pepsi responded quickly, working with the FDA to determine the ideal course of action and increasing the media presence of their bottling companies in affected regions. The company pursued an aggressive crisis management strategy, emphasizing the impossibility of tampering during the canning process and the potential punishments for false tampering claims. Within the month, security camera footage at individual retailers had caught tamperers, and while revenues dipped in the short term, Pepsi has continued to enjoy high sales since.
Pepsi’s success in handling the crisis illustrates a major lesson in relationship management: stay ahead of the crisis. If an order for a major client proves impossible to fulfill on the timetable originally set, let them know as soon as you see the problem. If your new product line encounters a major delay in development, tell your customers. Similarly, if you can find ways to build their confidence in your overall brand while doing so, put those into play.
What experiences have you had?
Even if you don’t foresee any major disasters in your company’s future, spend a little time considering what potential issues could arise, and how you’d respond to them. Create a contingency plan just in case. Strong leadership in times of crisis can make or break a company. If you’re looking for other ways to improve your communication skills, you might be interested on the essentials of following up with sales leads. If you’ve experienced stressful situations where quick thinking averted a social media or public relationships disaster, let us know in the comments!