Archives Cynthia

Thinking of recording video of an angry customer? Read this first!

Most people know that it’s illegal to record a phone conversation without first alerting the person on the other end of the phone. Not doing so is known as wiretapping and it can get you into serious trouble.

That being so, video taping someone without their permission must be illegal, too? Right?

Apparently not. Or maybe not. Or yes, depending on where you live and the exact circumstances and the name of the judge that hears your case.

Surreptitiously shot mobile phone videos are always popping up on social media, websites, even the nightly news. It’s as if every human being on the planet has been issued a junior reporter badge along with their phone plan. And though it’s nice when these civilian reporters capture random acts of goodness and light, more often what they’re capturing and sharing is a black mark on a person or company’s reputation.

United Airlines recently made the news – yet again – when a passenger decided to record the conversation he was having with a rude airline employee. The employee asked him to stop and when he refused, she canceled his airline reservation, then started filming him when he got angry. Tit for tat; because that’s always a good idea.

Airport security got involved and according to that man, the customer had every right to film because the airport is a public space. The counter agent didn’t agree and refused to give the flyer his ticket. The incident went to the court of public opinion (the web) and the airline took another hit to the old reputation. (Not sure how many more of these United can handle before they go down for the count.)

This little story brings up two important issues. First, is the right to film another person without their permission. It’s easy to understand why the man wanted to film the interaction. He was arming himself with the proof he’d later need to get satisfaction from the airlines. Whether he was also thinking – I’ll post this online and get my revenge – I can’t say, but even if his intentions were malicious, it was the employee’s responsibility to control the situation. Telling him to stop filming only made her look more in the wrong and that’s the worst move she could have made in the situation.

The law states that people cannot expect privacy in a public place. So if they’re caught on film while walking through an airport, that’s okay. But specifically recording a conversation is different. According to Videomaker magazine, most states allow the recording of images, but when you record two people having a conversation, that’s eavesdropping which is illegal in a lot of places.

Which brings me to important issue number two: whether or not the man had a legal right to film the customer service rep is irrelevant because United would have to be out of its mind to sue an unhappy customer for something so petty. What is relevant is the employee’s behavior and attempt to film the interaction with the customer. It’s possible that she did it for her own protection, but it sounds like it was more of a childish comeback. (I’m rubber, you’re glue. . . . etc.) Even if the customer was wrong, it was her job to make it right. Canceling his ticket? No. Recording him. No. Airport security? Big no. What she needed to do was keep her cool and call a supervisor who had the power to solve the problem on the spot. In trying to uphold the company’s policy, the employee gave the world another reason not to fly United.

We can’t lay all the blame on the employee. We’re all only human. People are going to lose their cool in a frustrating situation, unless you’ve given them the tools they need to handle bad situations before they get out of control.

One of the tools you must hand them is a primer on video recording. What are the laws regarding both images and conversations in your state? What should an employee do if they’re being recorded? Is there ever a case where it would be okay if your employee felt the need to start a recording? What about recordings between employees during a one-on-one situation like an employee review or a large group meeting?

Ten years ago, we didn’t need to have a video recording policy, but in 2017, it’s a must. Figure it out. Write it down. Run it by a lawyer, then make sure everyone in your company reads and signs off.

There’s nothing you can do to stop a stranger from filming an unpleasant interaction with one of your employees, but you don’t want to end up in court because your employee was the first to pull out his phone.

How to maintain a great company reputation during downsizing & layoffs

Corporate restructuring. Store closures. Downsizing. Rightsizing due to a merger. It all means the same thing: layoffs.

Layoffs are hard on everybody. Those laid off are stunned and then angry. Those who are left behind feel bad and overwhelmed. Customers also feel betrayed, especially when the layoffs go along with store closures. About the only people who don’t feel the pain of a layoff are the stock holders – they’re always happy to see expenses go down so profits can go up. But even they won’t be happy if the company’s reputation takes a public hit.

Is there any way to ruin people’s lives without looking like a Batman villain? It’s not easy, but you’ve got to try. It all begins with the right voice.

Look at these two examples:

“A necessary component of managing change involves constantly evaluating how we best utilize all of our resources, and that sometimes involves difficult decisions. . . . Dynamic change demands an increased focus on versatility and value, and as a result, we have been engaged in the challenging process of determining the talent. . . necessary to meet those demands.  We will implement changes in our talent lineup this week.  A limited number of other positions will also be affected and a handful of new jobs will be posted to fill various needs.”


“After a lot of analysis and soul searching, we decided to radically simplify our strategy to re-focus on what we love and what our customers value from us: . . . What does this mean for the company? This is the gut-wrenchingly painful part. The hardest part of my job is asking people who have put their hearts and souls into [the company] to part ways. . . . They are a part of the family and it is heartbreaking that they will not be working alongside us in the future.
We will do everything we can to give them the [best] transition possible, including severance, coaching, and assistance finding new roles. Because I know the caliber of folks we’re parting with, I am confident they will go on to do great things.”

In the first example, we’re doing what’s best for the company (not the customers). It’s “necessary” and “difficult” and oh, by the way, after we fire a bunch of people, we’ll be hiring a few more. (huh?)

The second example involves what’s best for the customer, “soul searching”, “heartbreaking”, “family” and assurances that these valued employees will be looked after.

Which one leaves you feeling better about the company behind the layoffs?

The cold response comes from ESPN’s public post regarding their recent and unprecedented layoff of well-known TV personalities and reporters. The second was CEO Sarah Bird of search company Moz.

In both cases, valued employees were cut loose, but Moz’s CEO comes off sounding truly remorseful and that’s all the public wants to hear. Your customers understand that times are tough; they just want to believe that you truly had no other choice.

As for your workers – both the ones being let go and the ones left behind – they want two assurances. They want to know that you’ll make the transition as easy as possible and that the cuts will actually benefit the company and the customers.

In addition to making public promises, it’s important to communicate internally as often and as personally as possible. Don’t leave employees wondering about insurance and severance packages. Have those details ready to hand out as soon as you lower the boom.

The time to think about security and the company’s future reputation is before you hand out the pink slips. Your tech team needs to cut digital ties with laid off employees in a way that both protects the company and yet doesn’t leave the employee feeling like an untrustworthy criminal. Most employees, if treated fairly, won’t take any actions to harm the company, but it’s an emotional time, so you need to be prepared.

Look at the recent case involving Radio Shack where soon-to-be-laid-off workers created a nasty Facebook page maligning the company and the customers. You can’t stop people from speaking out on their own social channels – well, you can try with a clause in their severance package contract but good luck enforcing that – but you can keep them from corrupting the company owned social media channels.

Throughout the layoff process, it’s important to put the best interest of people in front of profits both publicly and privately. Everyone knows that cuts are about reducing overhead so there’s no reason to beat that drum. Talk about the people who are leaving. Talk about how the changes will impact your current customers and talk to your remaining staff about how their work world is going to change, too. Then, after the press has moved on to the next crisis, begin talking about the future.

If you handled yourself well in the midst of it all, the future for you, your company and the people you support will be brighter than ever.

Is there such a thing as being too popular? Sunny Co says, oh yes!

The Sunny Boys of the Sunny Co came up with a super idea to promote their new line of swimsuits. They asked their Instagram followers to repost a specific photo of a model wearing their red Pamela suit. Everyone who reposted and tagged the company within 24 hours would get the $65 swimsuit “free” – as long as they agreed to pay the shipping and handling.

The Pamela suit appears to be named for, and inspired by, the red swimsuit Pamela Anderson wore in Baywatch. The new Baywatch movie premieres this month, so it was indeed, a great time to run a viral promotion.

The promotion worked like Los Angeles lifeguard on the 4th of July. But as the reposts kept rolling in, the Sunny Boys realized they’d left a key phrase out of their contest rules: “offer is limited to the first XXX”. Thousands of people reposted and soon everyone on Instagram was seeing red. That led to memes and jokes on Twitter and Facebook, which led to even more people reposting to win a “free” suit.

20 hours after the start of the giveaway, they changed the rules to say “due to the viral volume of participants (huh?), we reserve the right to cap the promotion if deemed necessary.” They also noted that, due to the large number of orders, shipping would take at least 3 to 6 weeks. Though now, it seems that some will be lucky to have their suit delivered in time for Halloween.

I imagine there are legal rules regarding the changing of a contest after it’s begun but that wasn’t what knocked the wind out of their sails. A large number of people were charged the full $77 for the suit, even though they used the promo code and received what appeared to be a confirmation.

What started out as a fun game, turned into an angry mob gathering at the founder’s Facebook doorstep. People complained about getting hit for overage fees due to the larger than expected charge. Others simply wanted to know that the company was going to fix the problem, but the company was busy shipping bathing suits, so they didn’t have time to reply.

Two days have passed and every suit on the company’s website is now sold out. Yeah! Except they’re giving away most of them for $12. Yikes! How many? The latest Instagram post is a letter from the Sunny Boys saying that they’ll attempt to fulfill the first 50,000 orders that hit their server. 50,000! They also promised to correct all of charges but said they couldn’t make good on any bank fees.

“We are two young entrepreneurs dedicated to providing quality products and trusted customer service. As planned, a portion of this program will be donated to the Alzheimer’s Association.”

Noble words, but you can’t donate a percentage of a loss and as for trusted customer service. . . well, that remains to be seen. If they’re going to save their reputations, they’ll have to bring on some extra help (more money lost) and clean up all of bad transactions within a few days. Then they have to start shipping and hopefully they have enough stock to cover the promised sales. Customers will give them a few months, but once summer hits, they’re going to want those suits!

Before signing off, the boys note that they only have two official social media accounts; one on Instagram and one on Twitter. This is to separate themselves from the attention seeking trolls who have started phony accounts on Snapchat and Twitter. Good move there.

Given the larger issues of the world, anyone who gets a refund instead of a $12 Sunny Co bathing suit should laugh it off and move on. Yes, it’s disappointing but it’s clear that the company didn’t make this offer with the intention of defrauding people. It was an honest mistake. But people, being people, will likely ride this company hard until every beach in the US is nothing but a sea of red.

Once they get past the current crisis, this could work out in their favor. Now, when someone sees a Pamela red bathing suit on the beach, they’ll immediately think of the Sunny Co. And isn’t that what advertising is all about?

Andy’s take: Don’t rush to launch any social media promotion. Forgetting to add a limit to the contest almost sunk Sunny Co. They made an honest mistake and tried to do the right thing, but it’s always cheaper to remember the saying: measure twice, cut once.

Facing the stormy waters of change : Shea Moisture

There are thousands of companies in the United States with small, but intensely loyal, followings. Often these companies start out with one product that truly hits the mark, then they expand their product line to include other items that speak to the same target audience. From there, the small business grows and grows and then plateaus and plateaus. It’s at that point that the company has to make a decision; keep on catering to the same audience and give up on growth, or expand the brand to include a different target market.

Most will vote for expansion, but that comes with a price. A price that could wipe out all of the loyalty and goodwill you gained in the growth years.

This is what happened to Shea Moisture. The company has been making and selling natural beauty products aimed at a multicultural audience since 1912. Their core customer base is primarily women of color, but the company’s CEO Richelieu Dennis has been actively trying to expand the brand in several ways.

First, he fought to end segregation in the beauty aisles.  Instead of putting products like his in the “ethnic” section, he pushed to have them included with the usual suspects. His #BreakTheWalls campaign received more than 300 million impressions on social media. His second step also received a lot of attention, but for all the wrong reasons.

Last month, Shea Moisture released a new video campaign featuring four women talking about their hair care problems. The message: love your hair, even if it’s difficult to deal with. “Break free from hair hate!”

It wasn’t the hair Shea Moisture’s current customers hated, it was the ad which heavily featured a very pale set of redheads and a blonde. Suddenly Shea Moisture was dealing with backlash whiplash. Those vocal and loyal customers were now just as vocal but not in a good way.

One woman posted this comment on Facebook:

“To know/hear that Black women marketing and social media experts advised that you not forget your target audience in your ads and ‘new’ marketing outreach (hint: many of us in NYC media know each other and we TALK) and you still chose to ignore this advice and to toss us to the back of the ad as an after-thought will be your undoing. Sad. I’ve only ever bought a couple SM products (but I have bought many others from your family of companies, including Madame CJ Walker brand) but this turn of events will definitely curtail my purchasing with SM….”

That comment was written as a response to the company’s very frank and genuine apology. Now that the company’s reputation has taken a hit, they have some big decisions to make. The first is one and done: the video has been taken down. Next, they need to make a new video and they could go one of two ways. They could go back to their core audience and create a video aimed specifically at women of color and risk blowing their chances of expanding into new territory. Or, they could create a video with a better ethnic balance. This seems like the right answer, but creating a 30 second spot that addresses the beauty issues of all different types of women is tricky.

Shea Moisture’s CEO isn’t giving up growth just because his core customers demand it. He is going to slow the boat while giving those customers a little extra love and attention.

CEO Dennis told Fast Company

“We need to make sure we spend the time engaging with that community, encouraging them, and letting them know that just because we’re growing doesn’t mean they’re less important. in fact, they become more important because they’re the ones who have always advocated for us.”

Therein lies the secret to change. Before you outgrow your current audience, take them into your confidence and empower them to be the ambassadors for that change. This is called keeping your friends close and your potential enemies even closer.

Image: SheaMoisture’s Twitter and FB Page

Are employee social media rants the next wave of reputation worries?

If you’ve ever woken up to a social media firestorm, you know how much it hurts. An angry customer posts a titillating Tweet, a few friends share it and add their thoughts. The thread catches the eye of a reporter and suddenly you’re defending your business on the nightly news.

Now imagine that same scenario, but instead of a customer, it’s one of your own employees that lit the match! That’s what happened to both Radio Shack and Starbucks this week; with very different results.

We’ll start with Radio Shack. The beleaguered retail chain has been on a downward spiral since the iPhone replaced the beeper and CB radio. They started closing stores a few years ago and it looks like someone is angry about losing their job. That person left a rather nasty farewell on the Facebook page for a Radio Shack that was shuttered in Ohio. Several news outlets picked up the story, forcing Radio Shack Corporate to step in and do something – sort of. They posted a note on their corporate page, saying they believe the Ohio store page is bogus and they’re looking in to it. They also posted the image you see at the top of this post.

That’s an “official response”? A grainy, sarcastic attempt at humor that’s actually somewhat degrading and most assuredly lame? It’s almost as if Radio Shack is mocking their own inability to move into the 21st century.

With the company so close to closing forever, they’re obviously not too worried about protecting their reputation but they should be. Radio Shack was a groundbreaking company when it began, and they owe it to all of the loyal customers and workers not to let it go down as a joke.

On the other side of the social media fence, we have the Starbuck’s barista who doesn’t want you to buy a new Unicorn Frappuccino. Braden posted a video rant on Twitter begging customers to stop buying the ridiculous pink drink.

“I have unicorn crap all in my hair and on my nose. I have never been so stressed out in my entire life.”

His video went viral and now other baristas are joining in with social media posts about how the new drink has made their job a sparkly, living hell. Starbucks has refrained from replying and maybe that’s because the baristas aren’t the only ones singing the pink blues. Customers aren’t so happy either:

Even with all the complaining, people are still lining up to catch a unicorn while they can. It is – thankfully – available only for a limited time. In the future, Starbucks can avoid this kind of issue by having actual workers test the product to see if it can be prepared in a reasonable amount of time before releasing it to the public.

As for Braden the barista, he has since deleted his video – no word on whether or not he still has a job.

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