Issues that used to be dealt with between the customer and the organisation are now easily shared with the wider world. As a result, organisations need to be willing to defend their internal guidelines, or flexible enough to listen to feedback and change. A few brands and organisations struggled with this in July.

Going public

When a Wembley Free School threatened a mum’s son with lunchtime isolation should she fail to pay her lunch money deficit, the issue ended up gaining a wider audience than the school anticipated. In addition to gaining national media coverage, the story made waves on Twitter as outraged people started pouring over the letter and screenshots of other, somewhat strict, school policies.

Although children’s groups responded by saying it was wrong to punish children for their parents’ inability to pay for lunch, the leadership of the school didn’t seem to understand the fuss.

A restaurant on the Cambridge Leisure Park had a similar reaction when one of its policies made it into The Telegraph. To qualify for the child rate when paying for a buffet meal, that child needed to be under 4ft 7ins. But when one family went out to eat, their nine-year-old daughter was measured by the staff and her parents told that at 4ft 11ins, they would need to pay the adult fee instead.

The parents were furious, because of course, she’s a child, but the restaurant remained insistent (even when contacted by the press) that they were following their policy.

In both cases, perhaps the best thing to do – customer service-wise – would have been to show some empathy and maybe make an exception to the rule (and then possibly review those rules). In choosing to rigidly adhere to internal guidelines, these organisations no only alienated the people involved, but gained bad press as a result.

Bugging Byron

Sometimes you have no choice by to rigidly adhere to the rules and no choice by to bear the consequences. Byron Burger found this out when it invited its workers in for an important meeting – only for them to get picked up by immigration officials in planned raids.

If the restaurant chain had refused to co-operate with authorities, it would have faced massive fines, but by cooperating with them so readily it has been suffering much more in the court of public opinion.

Apart from the usual online protests (#BoycottByron), protestors have released cockroaches and locusts in central London locations. They’ve also been standing outside Byron locations with protest signs, urging people not to eat there.

The protests have continued into August, with campaigners continuing to demonstrate outside Byron locations across the country.

Byron Burgers seems to be focusing on the impact the protests are having on customers, rather than the event that instigated the reaction. While it’s true that there’s probably not much it can do to salvage its reputation with some campaigners, it could acknowledge the negative effects that its actions had on the individuals involved.

It’s rare that a crisis happens which is completely beyond a brand’s control. Even seemingly unpredictable events – like smart pet feeders breaking down, or payment system failures at Etsy – can be avoided if the right technology, processes and contingencies are in place. At the very least they can be remedied quickly. But when a crisis is created by something that lies within a brand’s ethos or the crisis is caused by a brand obeying the letter of the law, it can be harder to find a rapid solution.

Gemma is Polpeo’s Content Specialist. She develops the crisis storylines and writes social content for Polpeo. She is the principal voice of Polpeo on Twitter, and blogs on PR Examples and carrotcomms.co.uk/blog.

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