Cold Facts About High Bills: Crisis Communications Tips for Angry Customers

electric cooperative high bills gerard braudBy Gerard Braud

Today’s crisis communications tip looks at what happens when angry customers take to Facebook to complain about your company. Complaints on your Facebook page or complaints on a Facebook group page built for and by the complainers is creating public relations problems for companies.

All of us can learn from this perfect crisis communication lesson — It can be found at every utility company, where customers who are angry about their high winter bills and are venting their frustration and anger on Facebook.

Many utility companies do exactly what they should not do: They do nothing.

The men and women in leadership positions at both investor owned electric companies and rural electric cooperative companies have spent decades practicing the art of hope, as in, “I hope this just goes away.”

Hope is not a crisis communications strategy, especially in the age of social media.

However, engaging with these angry customers on Facebook can be problematic because social media is filled with traps.

Trap 1: If you comment on a post that is either positive or negative, it can lead to an exponentially high number of negative responses.

Trap 2: If you comment on any Facebook posts, it sends it to the top on everyone’s news feed.

What do you do?

Solution One: Fix the problem and/or make the anger and hostility go away. The reality is there will never be a refund for electricity used. And chances are, the customer has forgotten that their bill was likely this high during the coldest month of the year 12 months ago and just as high during the hottest month of the year six months ago. But they would rather blame their electric winter storm cleoncompany than to take personal responsibility.

The solution is to manage the expectations of the customer by eliminating the peaks and valleys in their bill by offering an option to have what many companies call bill averaging or bill levelization. It means the customer will see nearly the same amount on their bill every month. Often, it will reduce this month’s $400 bill to an easier to pay $250 bill, which makes the customer happier.

Solution Two: Take the discussion offline. In many cases, the best way to handle an angry customer is to have customer service pick up the phone and call them directly. Customer service is able to demonstrate the type of soothing, personal concern that would be lost on a Facebook post.

Make the Crisis Go Away

The problem with the, “I hope it goes away” philosophy is that the problem will go away within the next two months as spring arrives and many customers use little, if any heating or air conditioning. But the problem will return during the hottest month of the year, then go away, then return next winter.

If you have a solution that can make the crisis go away once an for all, then by all means do it.

Social Media Complicates Ebola Crisis Communications

Ebola Facebook Crisis video Gerard Braud

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By Gerard Braud

A glance at the Emory Healthcare Facebook page magnifies the complexities of crisis communications in the age of social media. I’m not a huge fan of social media in a crisis. What I see playing out on Emory’s Facebook page reconfirms my dislike of social media as a crisis communications channel. As Emory University Hospital tries to save the lives of two health professionals affected with the Ebola Virus, some people hail them as heroes. Others accuse them of jeopardizing the health of everyone in the United States and accusing Emory of doing this as a publicity stunt. Yesterday I wrote about Donald Trump’s Twitter attack on Emory.

Emory FB wide 1If your business or company is in a high profile crisis, the traffic to and the comments on your Facebook page increase. The way Facebook is structured, each time a person adds a comment, good or bad, that Facebook page goes to the top of the newsfeed for everyone who follows the page.

This creates a constant battle of opinions, good and bad, right and wrong, sane and insane.

When Chobani had their yogurt recall in 2013, I warned their social media team to stop trying to fight the crisis on social media. For every positive post from a customer or the company, there were dozens of negative posts.

My best crisis communications advice is to post your primary message on your website and share that with the mainstream media. Next, e-mail the link to all of your employees. After that, e-mail the link to other stakeholders. These are the core people who need to know your message.

If you post the link to social media, avoid comments such as, “We appreciate your support and understanding.” Such remarks encourage negative comments from the cynics who don’t understand your actions and who don’t support you.

Emory Chobani FB Sorry 1In a crisis, people can talk about you on your social media site and they can talk about you via hashtags on other sites. Given a choice, I’d rather not have a history of negative comments on my own social media site. You may find you are better off letting people vent with hashtags on other sites rather than being angry on your social media site.

Sometimes tried and true beats shiny and new. Sometimes in a crisis, you may find that it is in your best interest to rely on conventional crisis communications tools. It may be better to take your social media sites down completely until the crisis is over. If people need information, they are smart enough to find it on your primary website.

Emory FB commentsIt is difficult to Tweet your way out of a crisis. It is difficult to Facebook post your way out of a crisis. It is difficult to get in an online shouting match with idiots.

Social Media Crisis Communications – Sins of 2009

Today we’re going to look at one of the biggest sins of 2009… shiny new objects syndrome.

When I look back at 2009, I’ll remember it as the year that people became obsessed with Twitter and Facebook. Seems everywhere I turned, people were clamoring over these shinny new objects… like aborigines who have seen themselves in a mirror for the first time.

The obsession with these tools is perplexing for me, because I know some people truly enjoy them… while others have jumped on the bandwagon because they fear being left behind. It’s a classic version of trying to keep up with the Jones.

The sad reality, is that while many people were chasing after the shinny new objects, they took their eye off the ball; they lost track of priorities, especially in the field of communications.

All communications is about what you want the other person to know and how you want them to respond to that communications. There are many tools that can help you achieve this goal, but too many people in communications have tried to force fit Social Media not only into their tool kit, but to make it paramount as a communications tools.

I think that is a bad idea. Social media reflects a huge generational gap between those under 30 who use it often and those older than 30 who have never used or seen a social media site.

While they tools have their benefits for maintaining certain relationships, they are often a force fit in a corporate culture. Sure, frantic fans of a movie star may want to track their every move on Twitter, but do customers of a chemical company really need to follow your Tweets…and do you really think that I want to follow your Facebook fan page? Not likely.

The reality is, as a communications platform, Social Media sites are unreliable and vulnerable to hacking. There are still many other forms of communications in your tool chest that are more reliable and are better for reaching your loyal audience.

So if shiny new object syndrome was your sin in 2009, as we enter 2010, your redemption would be to make an effort to not get distracted by what is shinny and new, but to use it only when it is a good fit and the right fit…not a force fit.

I get asked about using Social Media a lot as a crisis communications tool, so on January 19th at 11 a.m. CST, I’ll host a special telemseminar called, Social Media When “It” Hits the Fan. If this is a topic that impacts your and your team, I invite you to sign up. We’ll look at examples of when Social Media has worked well and when it has been a huge failure.

Tomorrow, we’ll wrap up the week with a look at what leaders don’t know and how it impacts your job.

And…

1) If you’d like to sign up FREE for the audio version of this, known as the BraudCast, click here.

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