If you are like me, you missed the latest Twitter soap opera over the weekend, this one between Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines. I've gone back and read blog posts and tweets from both parties, and from what I can tell, Smith was on standby for a SW flight earlier than his scheduled one. SW let him board that plane, then asked him to leave, citing that he was causing discomfort to the passengers around him, or that as he claims, he was 'too fat to fly'.
Now, as usually is the case with a social media firestorm, what actually happened isn't nearly as significant as how the involved parties RESPOND to what actually happened.
First, there was this blog post from Southwest, entitled "Not So Silent Bob Speaks", which is a terrible title. One thing companies need to realize when they are in a situation like this is that many people are going to take swipes at you no matter WHAT you do or HOW you respond. So why give them any ammo by choosing a title that SOME could see as a swipe against Smith? Bad move, Southwest.
Now as for the post itself, it's apparently been edited since it was first published, but after an initial apology to Smith (which is what you want to see), the tone of the rest of the post seems to be explaining why Southwest was not at fault here. Additionally, the post should have closed again apologizing to Smith, and offering readers to leave their feedback (which they were going to do anyway). And Southwest should have stressed that they handled the situation poorly, and were listening to Smith, and their customers.
While Southwest was leaving this post, @ThatKevinSmith was on Twitter leaving a steady stream of f-bombs and other profanity-laced tweets aimed at Southwest. Now somewhat in Smith's defense, he was obviously upset and felt he had been told by Southwest that he was 'too fat to fly'. He was embarrassed, and had been the victim of a very bad customer service experience. So him being upset is understandable, but after 100 or so profanity-laced tweets, I think he crossed the line from being justifiably upset, to making himself look bad. I won't share the tweets, and honestly the one I included in this post was one of the few that didn't have the f-bomb in it.
Southwest then followed the next day with another post on the subject, which led to a post from Smith on his blog (NSFW). BTW after reading these posts I noticed something very significant: Southwest allowed comments on their posts, Smith did not. And yes, many of the (anonymous) comments on the Southwest blog were slamming the company, while many others defended their actions. But again, it rings a bit hollow to me that Smith wants to use social media to complain about the situation, but won't let us give our thoughts.
In the end, I think both Southwest and Smith handled this poorly. Southwest clearly didn't handle Smith's situation very well at all, and probably never should have let him on the plane, and then weren't completely honest about why he had to leave the plane. At least that's what it seems like to me. Then their apologies didn't seem completely sincere, and Smith went from being justifiably outraged to all but whining on Twitter. And constant f-bombs did nothing to help his cause.
But for companies, I think this is a reminder of how to properly handle a 'crisis' situation like this:
1 - Admit you were wrong, and MEAN IT. Even if you really don't THINK you were wrong, admit that you could have been, and probably were. Because many people will automatically believe you ARE wrong. So address those people in your response. Again, firestorms like this are pushed by the people that are the most vocal, and that doesn't necessarily mean they are right or even interested in being right. But it DOES mean that your response needs to go above and beyond in admitting error, and apologizing.
2 - Tell us how you will keep the same thing from happening to me. How will you FIX the problem? What did you learn from this, and what will be changed as a result?
3 - Invite feedback and let customers know that you WANT to hear from them. I never saw this in Southwest's replies. And you might as well ask for feedback because you WILL get it. Say you're wrong, tell us how the problem will be fixed, then invite us to give you feedback on what you are doing.
4 - Apologize, and remind us that you will do everything you can to ensure that this doesn't happen again. Thank your customers for caring enough to voice their concerns about this issue, and invite them to keep responding.
What do you guys think? Did Southwest handle this correctly? If not, what could they have changed? Was Smith justified in his tweets, or did he go too far?
BTW Sonny has a great post on this episode, check it out.