Naturally our instinct is to change the channel. We ignore complaints, run from them, or remove the people complaining. It is my natural tendency and I am willing to bet it is yours as well.
Sometimes, in fact I would dare say most of the time, the problem isn’t the channel but the conversation. Sometimes it is an outspoken person who finally says what everyone is thinking, sometimes it is a conversation you keep changing channels on instinctively. Usually however there are nuggets of truth in that conversation that are hard to accept.
Couple of case studies. First, United Airlines. In 2008 a local musician watched baggage handlers throwing his guitar around as they were loading it on the plane. After he recovered his luggage he found his guitar broken. This became the United Breaks Guitars incident. The musician went through the channels alerting employees and eventually corporate. They all ignored him, saying he missed a timeline for reporting or that it was an accident.
The musician, Dave Carroll, then decided to use his musical talents and create a youtube video parodying his guitar breakage. The song became an instant youtube hit. United instead of trying to change the conversation changed the channel. The result cost United roughly $180 million in stock value.
The second case study is not an incident but a long trending organizational problem. Domino’s pizza had a problem, it made a crappy pizza. When you are a pizza company making a bad pizza is probably not good for business. Dominos was ranked so bad that it was tied for last place among popular pizza chains with Chuck E. Cheese.
Domino’s customers complained and they ignored them. Employees complained and they fired them. Most importantly in this is not the number of complaints or firings but how many customers went somewhere else or quality employees quit for another job.
Unlike United, Domino’s after changing the channel for several years decided to change the conversation. New CEO Patrick Doyle decided to hear the conversation and find out why it was being said. He then took that very conversation and used it in their favor, changing products based on what customers complain about. The result is that the conversation changed. Domino’s is no longer known for cardboard crust but for customer service. The result is that in the past 2 years Domino’s has seen its stock grown 230+%.
There are hundreds of other case studies that show both sides of the conversation. Companies, organizations, and governments who have changed the channel and lost in the long run or changed the conversation and experienced gains. There are very few absolutes in marketing and PR, but when faced with a crisis of any sort I’ve yet to see this fail.