3 mistakes Starbucks made handling the Philadelphia Crisis

Thursday, April 12th was normal as two men waited for a 3rd friend to conduct a business meeting. Normal. Nothing out of the ordinary until the manager decided these two African-American men had not purchased anything and called the police. Fortunately, another Starbucks patron, Melissa DePino, captured video and tagged @Starbucks on Twitter. Other customers were seen on this video standing up for the young men as the police arrived and arrested them. The men were held until almost 2 a.m. and now have a record that will need to be expunged. Why?

Within the next 24 hours, the video went viral

–more than 150,000 retweets

–more than 200,000 likes

–tens of thousands of shares on other social media channels. Many of the shares also tagged the video @Starbucks, @Starbucksnews, and #Starbucks.

Ultimately, more than 10+ million people viewed the video and there are lessons for progressive businesses to make note:

  1.  Timelines and Tags. Don’t overlook the small things. Today our stories are told  by dates, times, and tags. In Starbucks case, the @Starbucks tag began trending but its important for frontline people or systems in your business to immediately escalate customer concerns. Within minutes, Starbuck’s management should have known there was an issue. As a small business, you may have a team who does this, and as a leader, at a minimum, you should have alerts that come to your phone or office because nothing is more important than your customers’ experience with your brand.
  2. RFR Team. Pre-establish a rapid-fire response team (RFR) with cross-functional decision makers who have the insight, talent, and authority to respond and/or escalate without the red tape.  This is what leadership looks like for businesses today. Don’t duck the issue. This kind of team is critical to helping senior most leadership be effective in resolving issues without lasting damage to your reputation. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson’s response was late (almost 24 hours after the incident) and not initially seen as geniune to the situation.
  3. Stupid Policies No More. Review your customer service policies for social media gaps. Look for front-line options and identify potential gaps of issues that can go viral. Details have been mirky and vague about whether Starbuck’s actually has a policy to call police in this type of situation. The sad thing is that such a policy, if true, would fly in the face of the organic ‘cool-factor’ of the Starbuck’s brand. It woud also counter their brand as a ‘welcomng atmosphere’ and gathering place. If it’s not true, then a new policy consistent with the learnings from this situation must be established.

Final thoughts

  • Does your company have a crisis communication team ready to address issues at a moment’s notice?
  • Who monitors negative comments with a process to address when things go awry?
  • Who reviews your customer-facing policies and on what schedule for gaps that can become opportunities for success?

If you’re not sure how your policies match up, Magnificent PR offers a new service, Social Media Customer Service Gap Assessment. It allows companies and its leaders to have a 3rd party review your policies and provide recommendations for your decision making and/or review with your leadership team. For more information on this service, please contact us.


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