I recently read an excellent book ‘Rework‘ by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, founders of 37 Signals. Rework focuses on how to succeed in business with some sage advice for the new web age. One of their chapters deals with Damage Control and in particular what to do when something has gone wrong.

1. Why is important for organizations to announce their bad news?

The authors make a very valid point. Someone is going to break the story about whatever went wrong. It is better for that person to be you!  They also advise to tell customers, even if they might not have noticed it. It is far worse if it is a customer, user, journalist or government agency that exposes your problem.

Your honesty will gain you points with customers. You will be better respected if you are open about what happened and communicate what happened, and what you are doing about it. Communicate often, if it is an on going problem. These pointers should also minimize damage control efforts and costs.

2. What is the form of communication that announces your bad news?

With the advent of the web, many communication channels are now available. Traditional media and public relations (eg press releases) are still valid. So are new Social Media and web tools  such as blogs and websites. When faced with a complaint or crisis, announce through multiple techniques.

3. How to Communicate.

The authors of ‘Rework’ provide the following advice about how to communicate:

a. The message should come from the top: the top ranking person available, should be seen as in control in a meaningful way. Toyota did not do this. Mr Toyoda came forward way too late. Tony Hayward of BP also failed to be seen as controlling the situation (remember his remark “I want my life back”).

b. Communicate, communicate, communicate! Send you message far and wide using all available means to spread the word (Web based techniques such as blogs, and social media such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc)..

c. “No Comment” is not an option.

d. Apologize the way a real person would. Explain what happened in detail.

e. Show up at the site if  you are removed from it and the situation is site specific

f. Show an honest concern about the fate of your customers and users.

g. Prove that you care by your actions.

4. What to do first.

a. Recognize bad news. Always look at situations that arise from the customer’s perspective. Will they think this situation is bad news?

b. Engage the most senior executive to be the spokes person

c. Tell your story

d. Describe your actions

e. Continue your communication as long as the ‘bad news’ persists. Over communicate.


This is great advice from some new age entrepreneurs. It doesn’t matter if you are in the Web based business. The truism of ‘owning your bad news’ and owning the communication of the situation, cause, actions and remorse are all elements of a sound customer satisfaction management system.

Toyota and BP failed to take this great advice and created public relation disasters and generated government investigation and intervention.

What is your opinion? Write your comments below and share with the community.


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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

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