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Corporatespeak Is Not Good Public Relations
Owning up when problems occur is not only the right thing to do in your business, but it can also bring a PR win, a point completely lost recently on Best Buy as it addressed customers about cancelled holiday orders.
In PR and communications, negative news can sometimes have a positive side just by way of the delivery. And what an opportunity that can be: either to recast in a positive light, to minimize damage... or to make it worse.
We have more respect for clear, direct communication, especially when something goes wrong. Owning up, making things right, and letting people know about it is not only the right thing to do, but can also be a PR win, a point completely lost last month on Best Buy as it addressed customers about orders that they weren't going to be getting in time for the holidays.
At Forbes.com this week, Larry Downes expands thoughtfully on “Why Best Buy is Going out of Business…Gradually.” Among other salient points, Downes slices and dices the following corporatespeak issued to some about-to-be-very-disappointed customers (you know, those who keep the company in business):
“Due to overwhelming demand of hot product offerings on BestBuy.com during the November and December time period, we have encountered a situation that has affected redemption of some of our customers’ online orders.”
And then Downes totally pwns them:
"Let’s parse that sentence for a moment. The company 'encountered a situation'—that is, it was a passive victim of an external problem it couldn’t control, in this case, customers daring to order products it acknowledges were 'hot' buys. This happened, inconveniently for Best Buy, during 'the November and December period,' that is, the only months that matter to a retailer. For obvious reasons, the statement ties itself in knots trying to avoid mentioning that the 'situation' occurred during the holidays."
Ugh. I can see Best Buy’s directors from marketing, legal and fulfillment all in a conference room drafting that missive, the poor souls. I don’t envy them, and I will not get on some high horse about how this kind of bad news could be better delivered — because it’s so obvious, as Downes rightfully notes. He continues:
"The situation that Best Buy 'encountered' has 'affected redemption' of some orders. Best Buy doesn’t fill online orders, it seems. Rather, customers 'redeem' them. So it’s the customers, not Best Buy, who have the problem. And those customers haven’t been left hanging; they’ve only been 'affected' in efforts to 'redeem' their orders. It’s not as if the company did anything wrong, or, indeed, anything at all."
— Larry Downes, for Forbes
YIKES. To Best Buy’s credit, they did apologize later in the same communication. Yet I can’t help but slap my forehead and wonder what could have happened If only they were more direct, maybe even going out of their way to make things right (free $20 gift cards, store credit, etc.) — they could even have turned this into a PR win… instead of something bloggers are writing about weeks later as a burgeoning harbinger of disaster.
Though I’m not sure I agree with Downes on Best Buy going the way of Circuit City in the immediate future, it certainly does not look rosy for them at present. And I’m not even talking about their finances. I’ve had great service and lousy service there, but the culture hinted at by this kind of language does not sound like that of an organization built to last.
At least, if it doesn’t want things like this written about it in Forbes.
And on Biznik.
Learn more about the author, Richard Smith.
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