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May 11, 2017
The Four Fs in Resolving Brand Mistakes
 
Since brands (and businesses) are composed of imperfect people, brands occasionally make mistakes. Good brands don’t make a lot of mistakes. Great brands recover quickly from the mistakes they do make. Whether a brand instigates a life-threatening problem (think poisoned Tylenol) or brings you the wrong dinner order, the resolution process should include four main principles:
  1. Act FAST — respond immediately and do something about the problem quickly.
  2. Be FRANK — be completely honest and transparent about what happened.
  3. Be FRIENDLY — accept the blame and don’t point fingers; speak in laymen’s terms instead of industry/inside language.
  4. Think FORWARD — if possible, offer something meaningful to remedy the mistake and explain how you plan to prevent the issue from happening again.
Two recent, personal examples come to mind that illustrate the wrong way and the right way to address company blunders. One of these brands, Southwest, known for its outstanding customer service and strong appreciation for its flyers, didn’t handle a negative situation very well. The second brand, likely unknown by most, took all of the right steps to make me happy following a slight oversight.

Southwest’s Senior Vice President of Customers, Teresa Laraba, sent a (now infamous) letter to its most loyal customers apologizing for its recent poor on-time performance. While the intention of the letter was good, the contents of the letter left me wanting more. First of all, mail is by far the slowest form of communication, so this response made the company seem lazy or uninterested. The tone of the message wasn’t friendly and sounded almost robotic, which isn’t very true to the Southwest brand. Lastly, nothing was offered to “compensate” passengers for the inconveniences Southwest caused them and I didn’t get the feeling that the brand had a good plan to fix the problem. It almost read like a four-year-old’s apology that her mom made her deliver to her younger sister for taking her lollipop (not that I’ve ever before experienced this).

On the other hand, I recently placed an online order for a coat from an Amazon seller, Diamond Candy. When the coat arrived, it was beautiful but it was way too small (I ordered a medium, which translated into extra-large in their sizes). I inquired about returning it, but since it was from Thailand the shipping fees to send it back were going to be more than the price of the jacket. Diamond Candy graciously offered to refund me the price of the coat, but in exchange the representative asked me to gift it to someone else and post a positive review on its Amazon storefront. She also told me that she would modify the online description of the coat to ensure future potential buyers understood that the sizes ran small. I never would have expected such a prompt and positive response from a store thousands of miles away, but it left a good impression on me and I’ll strongly consider buying from this company again.

So the next time your brand or business ruffles some customer feathers, take a deep breath and remember these four words: Fast, Frank, Friendly, and Forward-thinking. A solid response to a problem you caused will not only ease people’s concerns, but also will build a stronger sense of trust with your brand, resulting in a long and prosperous relationship for both parties.

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Emily K. Howarda marketing strategist since 1997, developed her skills at some of the country’s top marketing firms including DDB Worldwide, while working on brands like American Airlines, Pepsi, Bloomberg and Merck. Now as Vice President of Esparza, Emily’s integrated communications approach helps clients find order in marketing chaos. She’d love to hear from you and can be found on LinkedIn or @ekhoward on Twitter.
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