Starbucks to Close 8,000 Stores One Afternoon in May for Racial-bias Education

The Problem Isn’t Cambridge Analytica: It’s Facebook

One Person is Dead After Engine Fails on Southwest flight, Forcing Emergency Landing

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, two men were kicked out of Starbucks last week for no good reason other than postponing their coffee order, Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, appeared in court for security breaches and one person tragically died and others were injured after an engine failed on a Southwest flight from NYC to Dallas.

Just one glance at Facebook (I’m sure you see the irony as much as I do) and you’ll see the rage – “I’ll never step foot in a Starbucks ever again”, “What kind of planes is Southwest flying?” and yes, posts on Facebook about people considering cancelling their Facebook accounts.

I feel for what the victims and their families have been put through.

AND…. as small business owners, I think we should take this as an opportunity to consider how we’d react if our company screwed up, especially if we have staff or vendors that we rely on to represent our company.

When the CEO of Starbucks woke up on Thursday, April 12th, I’m sure he didn’t imagine that a manager on the corner of 18th and Spruce would call the police on a couple of guys for not placing an order before using the restroom. And while we desperately look to Southwest right now for answers as to what happened, you may recall that when a jet engine on a United Airlines flight back in 1989 failed, it was a trusted vendor, General Electric, who provided the part that lead to tragic results for those onboard.

So, what do you do if you find out that your company has screwed up, possibly in a big way?

You might say to yourself, “well… these are large companies with thousands and employees and vendors – this large scale stuff doesn’t really apply to me.” To understand how this is relevant to you, even with a smaller team, here are three examples of the types of things that could come up in your business. As you read through them, think about how you would react and what you’d do to make things right:

  • You had an agreement with a client for 12 monthly payments of $297 for a large group program. She paid $297 up front, but your VA forgot to adjust the 12-month installation schedule in your shopping cart, so an additional payment was taken out of her account. She’s now in overdraft and her bank has slapped her with some hefty fees. She’s extremely upset and is calling your office. You’re wondering if she’s going to go online and tell everyone about what happened.
  • You re-used some old copy for an upcoming launch. The thing is, you forgot to change the live event date in the copy. Everyone bought your program with the assumption that the event is in October this year, when it’s in fact in February next year. The emails are now trickling in and you’re trying to figure out how that possibly happened.
  • You’re at a networking mixer and you hear someone in the restroom asking for a resource. The name of your company comes up the conversation turns to the fact that you have great marketing but they’ve heard that you’re not very attentive. You give your all to your business so you start to wonder, “did I personally do something or does this have to do with my support team?”

In any of these instances, it could have been something that you personally did. Or, it could have been something that a team member did. Negative incidents can happen in your business for a variety of reasons – human error, company culture (negative signs being ignored or appropriate training that wasn’t provided) or the assumption that a trusted vendor is delivering a superior product, only to find out that it was defective and you found out too late. If you look back, you’ll likely notice that somewhere along the line, your mission, and in turn, your quality control as a business owner got lost.

Here are four things to think about now, before the unexpected happens so that you can prevent and mitigate issues that may affect your brand in a big way:

1. Plan in advance.

  • Ensure that you have systems in place so that your customers are heard. Do they have access to the right people at the right time? Are the lines of communication truly open?
  • Make sure that your customers feel special. We live in a world of “one size fits all”. While that may work for a while, it’s short-sighted. Don’t wait until it’s too late to find out that you’re alienating your customers.
  • Don’t work in a silo. Have a team of advisors to turn to in the event things go south. If you’re a solopreneur, you likely don’t have a lawyer on retainer, but it’s in your best interest to know who you’d turn to when you need guidance.
  • Lead your team. Remove expectations around what you think they should be doing and create clear agreements with them on the various aspects of their job. Do you have a operations manual and/or checklists that your team can follow so that everyone is on the same page? Are they clear on what your company stands for? Are you truly available to them so that they can come to you when they notice something that’s not quite right? When I start working with clients, they’re often very focused on how to enroll clients and get them in the front door while not noticing the people leaving out the back door. Part of what I do is figuring out how we can nurture both the clients and the team so we can prevent this from happening.

2. Be honest.

Admit what you did wrong. Seen the viral “Oh, yes, we did!” campaign by Dominos? This is a perfect example of being transparent – a faltering company who admitted that their pizza wasn’t up to par and that their store layout was desperately in need of a remodel. As a result of this honesty, revenues are up significantly and they’re outperforming projections.

3. Fix your mess quickly.

Listen to your customers and figure out what needs to happen immediately after the mess happens. Talk to them and communicate what you’ll be doing to prevent this from ever happening again.

4. Figure out what you need to change to get your customers back.

This takes us back to Step 1 – Plan in Advance. Yes, Starbucks knows it will lose customers. While some customers will see that the company is trying to fix things by closing its doors to retrain its people, others are scarred by what happened and will see it as a PR stunt and won’t return. But this will not prevent Starbucks from trying, any less than it did back in 2007 when stocks faltered, and they needed to rebuild the brand; any less than Mark Zuckerberg will have people working around the clock to fix the security issues the company is facing in order to retain its users.

We don’t know for sure what will happen with any of these large companies. There will be boycotts. There will be protests. There will be people that go on with life as usual. But ultimately, we can’t control the outcome.

One thing I know for sure is that you have control over the choices you make now as a small business owner with the plans you put in place for your own business and those choices will dictate the outcome in the event that the unthinkable happens.