No company wants to be portrayed as the ‘Grinch who stole Christmas’, especially in this age of social media and the 24/7 news cycle. Yet United Parcel Service (UPS) and FedEx are both in that position having failed to deliver Christmas presents before the big day. Both are being pummeled on social media which is once again driving the narrative of the story with UPS taking the brunt of the hits. This story is getting more play because of social media and the Christmas component with many irate customers having taken to Facebook and Twitter on Christmas to voice their outrage at having paid for express shipping only for the presents not to arrive. Add to it that this is the slow holiday news cycle and you have the perfect media crisis.
Neither of the two shipping giants are faring well in media coverage over this crisis or with postings on social media, especially as a day after the Christmas holiday many presents are still undelivered. While some bad coverage and social media hits are to be expected, some of the wounds the companies are suffering are self-inflicted and serve as object lessons of what to avoid. Among the lessons to remember from this crisis:
1. Always have a way for the media to reach a spokesperson or company decision maker even after hours or during a holiday. News stories dealing with the failure of UPS and FedEx to deliver all the holiday gifts by Christmas all state that attempts to reach the two shipping giants on Christmas day by the news media went unanswered. Organizations always need to have a way for the media to reach them in case of emergency. Failure to do so means the media will not carry your side of the story in the initial coverage, losing a news cycle and the narrative. As a result of UPS and FedEx having no way for the media to reach their spokespersons to address this crisis, the narrative implied in the media coverage was that while numerous families had their Christmas ruined, the higher ups at FedEx and UPS were at home and enjoying their holiday. Spokespersons must be available 24/7 to respond to the media.
2. Be able to address the problem with a strong apology and have a solution when you speak to the media. The cardinal rule in crisis communications is to address the problem and state how the company is dealing with the crisis. Yet neither UPS or FedEx have done this adequately. First they can’t state how many customers were affected by non-delivery of packages. As I write this column, the spokespersons for both claim they are still working in ascertaining the figure. The apologies issued by the two companies have been tepid at best. Christmas is a sacred time for millions and not having Christmas gifts delivered in time is very upsetting to families. The outrage we are seeing in parents upset because gifts for their children did not arrive in time or food ordered for a family’s traditional Christmas meal is genuine. Yet the apologies issued by the companies seems almost standard and robotic. Consumers expect a genuine heartfelt apology especially when their holiday has been disrupted and when they alled customer support numbers and were treated rudely. Finally, besides promising that packages will be delivered neither company has volunteered if they will refund customers their shipping fees. That
should have been an automatic in their apology.
3. Have a social media policy in place and address the crisis. This crisis is being driven by social media. Facebook pages voicing consumer outraged formed instantaneously when the gifts were not delivered. Remember social media drives narratives and often traditional media picks up a story based upon social media postings. Yet stunningly, neither of two companies is addressing this crisis on their social media pages. When caught in a crisis, utilize social media to speak directly to your consumer, addressing the issue, offering an apology, and stating your solution.
Mistakes happen in business. Social media and the 24/7 news cycle magnify mistakes and even the smallest crisis. That is why a crisis communications plan is essential. For FedEx and UPS, this failure in planning compounded their problems and made them look Scrooges to consumers and the media on Christmas Day. Now the challenge for both is to recover and rebuild trust that was lost because of not
merely their failure to get packages delivered by Christmas but by their mishandling in responding to the crisis.
David E. Johnson is the CEO of Strategic Vision, LLC, a public relations agency, that specializes in branding, crisis communications, and media placements. Additional information on him and Strategic Vision, LLC may be obtained at www.strategicvision.biz.