By Shawn McGowan, JobsInME.com
A few weeks ago a curious retweet in my Twitter feed caught my eye. MintyMin tweeted "Hey @PapaJohns just FYI my name isn't 'lady chinky eyes.'" I clicked and viewed an image she had posted of the offending receipt she had just received with her pizza. Wow. Within an hour I saw this retweet show up several more times and then continually throughout the day as more people caught wind of the latest social media/corporate PR train wreck.
Is it offensive that she was referred to this way on a receipt? Yes, definitely. Surprising? Not particularly, anymore. It's another example of a bad hire caught in the act of placing their employer in a titanic mainstream (via social) media backlash. This has been cropping up exponentially since people took to their phones, blogs, and Live Journals to air frustrations of bad customer service. This "brand interaction gone bad" was particularly embarrassing and offensive to read.
Every Voice Counts
Although, it was a relief to see how Papa John's did the right thing by firing said employee, apologizing to the customer and answering individual tweets as they cropped up, I couldn't help but think how crucial every forward-facing employee is in our increasingly hyper-connected social environment.
With the prevalence of social media and its wildfire speed of spreading the word quickly, it now doesn't take a celebrity like Kevin Smith with 1.6 million twitter fans to complain about a customer service issue to gain mainstream attention.
Minhee Cho (@MintyMin) only had 1,200 or so followers and her story went viral within hours, prompting swift action by Papa John's Corporate. Likely, most of your customers (whom your forward-facing employees interact with daily) have a social media presence. Imagine how quickly a negative experience with one of them could easily turn into a major fiasco for your organization.
Ways to Avoid This Situation
No one is going to come out and say that they are a racist or a bully but there are some ways to uncover red flags. Emotional Intelligence (EI) testing can be helpful to ensure your front line candidates understand the emotions of others and can effectively communicate their own. Adding some Behavioral Interviewing methods to your interviews can give critical insight into how candidates may react with your customers, given their past performance in similar situations. Behavioral interviewing can also see a little further into someone's personality and attitude than traditional interview questions.
Lisa Barone of Outspoken Media presents the solution that all employees in your organization be promoted to the front lines, given an additional title (Company Brand Evangelist), and undergo front line brand combat training. I absolutely agree that businesses must make all staff aware that they are the most powerful marketing tool the company has and help them to understand exactly why their interactions with customers are so important. According to Barone, creating a social media policy is an integral part of this plan. By educating, setting best practices and empowering employees you enable them to engage the public on-brand in a purposeful and unified way.
Trust Is Key
Select your customer-facing employees wisely, provide them with the proper tools and best practices, then empower and trust them to own and embody your organization's vision. A few extra steps may provide that critical bit of insight into finding the smiling faces of your brand and keep you off of the front page of The Consumerist.
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As a Social Media Marketing Coordinator, Shawn McGowan's passion for brand transparency and over 10 years of sales/customer service experience make him aptly suited for the job. A native of East Millinocket, Maine, Shawn grew up at the foot of Mount Katahdin and graduated from the University of Maine Presque Isle with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA). When not writing, editing or immersing himself in the world of social media, he can be found enjoying the outdoors, art, music, tech, humor, Portland's amazing food scene, and all things nerdy. You can reach Shawn at smcgowan (at) JobsInME.com and Twitter.com/shonymac.