Correcting a Customer Complaint Crisis

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    Get it right, or the world will hear

    When passengers aboard a Middle East Airlines flight discovered that not only did their plane have no air conditioning in the scorching heat, but was also full of broken tables, malfunctioning entertainment systems, and safety booklets stuck together with chewing gum, the logical first step was to ask the flight team about the plane’s shabby condition. Blown off by the lead stewardess, disgruntled passenger Hussein Dajani took his complaint to MEA’s Facebook page after landing, where he found support and many corroborating stories from fellow MEA customers.

    MEA’s response? They banned Dajani’s account from their Facebook wall and deleted his posts. We’ve said it before, and you know we’ll say it again, deleting legitimate criticism is a surefire way to create a need for crisis management in your organization. With mainstream media in the region picking up the story, MEA had only one choice, take massive reputation damage in the court of public opinion, or set things right. This time MEA leadership made the correct call, and issued a fairly solid statement right where the action was, on their Facebook wall. Featuring an admittal of fault and outlining a plan to become more aware of both service issues and customer complaints, as well as offering a direct contact for customer complaints and including an increased interest and presence in social media, this step helped diffuse much of the negative sentiment gathering around the airline.

    One thing MEA could have done better (avoiding the initial situation aside) is to include an actual apology in its statement, ideally in the opening paragraph, which reads:

    In the past week or so, videos and pictures have been circulated on the web pointing out problems customers have faced on a couple of MEA flights. They included service quality issues such as an out of use seat and a dysfunctional display unit amongst others. These videos and pictures created with the intention of raising awareness about MEA’s customer service, and which have caused others to provide valuable comments and feedback, have been taken on-board wholeheartedly.

    Tack a “We thank our customers for sharing with us, and apologize for any confusion or discomfort they may have experienced” onto that, and you raise the effectiveness of the entire statement. Overall, decent crisis management from MEA, especially for company that is still learning. So long as it truly works to solve the underlying issues at hand, MEA should come out of this one unscathed.

    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 Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]