A General must sometimes lose a battle to win a war. That tactic can also be applied to crisis communications.
When a crisis situation hits your business, remember that war adage because sometimes, losing a small customer service battle will help you win the larger public relations war.
It’s an older example from my crisis communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media, but it is a situation that applies to any business today.
How the PR Battle Begins
In December 2007, a Las Vegas man sued his gym for gender discrimination. He filed a formal complaint with the state, alleging the health club was giving preferential treatment to women, which he claimed was discrimination.
This news story had larger ramifications across Nevada since it could potentially end all “Ladies Nights” at bars that offered free drinks to women.
Making matters worse for the gym, the angry customer was vocal with the media.
“Imagine a whites-only country club or whites-get-in-free deal or something like that,” the gym member said. “When things are based on race, we have kind of a knee-jerk reaction because we’ve had poor race relations in America for 400 years now. But when it comes to treating people the same based on sex, that’s much more recent in our memory.”
The gym manager refused to give the member a discount and the PR nightmare grew. The health club was now dealing with national negative publicity that could ruin the pricing structure for bars, nightclubs and casinos. The owner of that gym made many enemies with just one discount refusal. And to think it all would have gone away by appeasing one customer.
Stopping the PR Battle from Becoming a PR War
The health club could have diffused the negative story by saying they were trying a new marketing approach to get more women into their health club, or to even it out.
Management could have added they were reviewing the policy to see if it was fair for men and women. The club could have said they were researching similar discounts that appealed just to men.
But, the club didn’t take that approach. Instead, they went on the attack and the negative publicity got worse.
“Our men are very, very happy with how we conduct our business,” the vice president of the company said. “This particular person is the only one who has had a problem with it. There are legitimate discrimination issues out there, and I wish he’d spend his time addressing those that really need addressing.”
Never turn an angry customer into a victim. You don’t want to give the perception that the victim is really a victim. Don’t give the public a reason to root against you.
There will always be an angry customer. If you get an expressive angry customer, make sure you tread lightly in the battle or risk waging war with others.
Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC and Senior Producer with WCBS. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.