Earlier this week, a YouTube video from a security camera made the rounds showing a FedEx employee carelessly tossing a package (containing a computer monitor) over a fence to deliver it. As of today, the original has over 4 million views and opportunistic content-scrapers who have re-posted to their own profiles have garnered hundreds of thousands more.
Huge public relations crisis, right? Nope.
FedEx delivered a master class in crisis communications with its response that should be taught in PR classrooms. Check it out:
Let’s break down what happened (which is an affirmation of the principles articulated by Arthur W. Page):
- They responded quickly. They didn’t wait for the situation to reach a tipping point; only two days passed between the uploading of the original video and the response. Can you imagine the kind of effort it takes during the heaviest delivery season to negotiate and organize a well-crafted video response to a negative customer service experience for a global corporation? Right now the response video is the #2 video, right under the original negative video which is #1. It has over 116,000 views – six thousand of those were accrued in the time it took me to draft this blog post, so it’s gaining traction.
- They told the truth. At no point did they try to write it off as an isolated incident, a hoax, or try to blame a third party contractor or regional human resources department. They embraced it.
- They made it right with the customer (a YouTube user with the alias ‘goobie55’). Before anything else, they reached out to the party affected and fixed the situation. Unfortunately, goobie55 has not (yet) done the right thing – which is to post an update to the video noting FedEx’s response – hopefully that will still happen.
- They took it seriously. FedEx knows how quickly information is shared online and they responded swiftly with senior management. They didn’t let the situation linger unanswered or task local staff to handle it. They also likely used all the resources in their arsenal – which may have included a traditional public relations pitch campaign (given the over 150 articles covering the response).
- They internalized the problem. According to FedEx Senior VP Matthew Thornton, they are also are now sharing the video with employees as a case study in why careful handling of packages is important.
- They gave the organization a face. You could hardly find a better face for the organization than VP Matthew Thornton; the nonverbal communication is fantastic. He’s in a shirt and tie (no suit coat), with thick-rimmed glasses and a similarly-thick mustache – he looks like a working-class executive who is personally-invested in the company and doesn’t shy away from rolling up his sleeves. Though he’s likely reading from a prompter, Thornton is convincing nonetheless. In a way he projects the feel of a small business owner who knows well how accountable he is to his customers.
- They had a track record to stand on. This is perhaps the most important part of any crisis is what happens BEFORE the crisis – something that can’t be emphasized enough. Every organization needs to make quality service and products a priority (which should go without saying, but it doesn’t – plenty are operating on an old model of sub-standard quality upholstered in glitz and style). No crisis response, no matter how eloquent, can save an organization that sucks at what they do from a high-profile example of their suckage – the companies that conduct themselves that way are only able to do so because they’re a monopoly (think AT&T or Comcast).
The only improvement I might have made is to have Thornton add an action item at the end of his video (you can provide hyperlinks within YouTube videos very easily) that invited any other customers with a bad experience to immediately share, or link directly to the process for resolving disputes, it so it could be fixed. But that’s just me nit-picking.
Hopefully a lot of people are able to learn from this – kudos to FedEx.