This is how you back-pedal with style.

Inevitably, you’ll screw stuff up. Kickstarter gives a great example of how to recover with your PR intact.

I’m a huge fan of Kickstarter for many reasons (not least the fact that I ran a KS project at some point), but their customer service and their way of communicating with people has never struck me as particularly good or bad.

Until this morning, when I found a post on their blog entitled ‘We were Wrong“. In the post, they deal with a really sticky PR / customer perception issue, and they come up trumps. But how?

Go ahead and read that blog post first, I’ll wait…

The reasons why Kickstarter are coming off better than they could have are many-fold, but here are a few things you can learn from that post:

They fessed up

Owning a potentially explosive PR story is important, but people don’t want excuses. They want to see companies standing up for their mistakes, and then take a mature approach to fixing the problem, both in the short and long term.

They explain what happened

Of course, when you publish a blog post about something that went wrong, you have to consider that a large number of people — perhaps the majority of your customers, even — didn’t know that something was ever even wrong.

One example is a web host I used to be with: I would get e-mails from them every few weeks saying that ‘Service had been restored’. If it hadn’t been for their e-mails, I’d never have known that the service was down in the first place, and that gave a pretty odd feeling. So, you have to be pretty careful here to give good feedback. Also, if the issue only affects a small subsection of your users, perhaps it’s a good idea to only tell them, rather than all your users.

The key thing here, is that Kickstarter is explaining a few things that are crucial to the understanding of their decision-making process. The first point (“We had only two hours…”) is crucial in explaining why a decision wasn’t made as quickly as it could have been (but that’s okay — I’d rather real with a company who thinks carefully about the implications of something, than one that acts rashly — wouldn’t you?).

They have a short-term solution

Pulling the offending page from the internet may be a little drastic, but they do explain one thing: “Content promoting or glorifying violence against women or anyone else has always been prohibited from Kickstarter”, and in removing the content, they are enforcing an existing rule. That’s perfectly fine — Kickstarter is free to make whatever rules they want, but it’s also important to understand why they are using the rules they are. In this case, they have taken a political stance which could potentially alienate some users — but it’s probably a safe bet, because ethically, Kickstarter is probably making a good call in actively going against violence etc.

They have a long-term solution

When the fire has died down, the question will be ‘What will you do to prevent this from happening again’? In this case, it’s to permanently ban ‘seduction guides’. In publically clarifying their rule, it helps customers understand what’s going on.

A token of confirmation

Sometimes, you have to make a gesture to show how serious you are about something. In the case of Above the Game, the project raised $16,369 — but Kickstarter is donating $25,000 to RAINN, an organisation that fights against sexual violence.

They didn’t have to do that — they could probably have gotten away with the short- and long term solutions. By donating more money than the project raised, Kickstarter are showing a firm commitment to listening to their customers, and giving a proper response.

What can you learn?

There’s a load of lessons to be learned from the above, but the key things are:

  1. Don’t act too quickly: Get all the facts. Things could get worse if you don’t.
  2. When you act, act decisively.
  3. Show how seriously committed you are to your customers
  4. Remember: You’re probably going to get judged by the outside world for anything you do. If you get points 1–3 right, you’ll reap the PR benefits at point 4. Be honest, be open, and be prepared.

Scffld is a blog where Haje Jan Kamps covers the great, the terrible, and a sprinkling of best practices of customer service. There’s a bit more background here.

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