Prior to this spring, Ivory Paper Co. was living the small business dream. A media darling, their planners could be found among all the top lists for 2021 planners including the New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Refinery 29, Buzzfeed, as well as in features that included People magazine, New York Magazine, and Yahoo. It was a true public relations success story…. until it wasn’t.

Customers have flocked online to various social media platforms in order to air their grievances with Ivory Paper Co., whose alleged inability to fulfill orders in a timely manner (some claim they’ve been waiting in excess of four months) coupled with the fact that the company supposedly deletes negative comments and blocks users (their customers) on social media platforms has led to a PR nightmare. In the age of social media, it doesn’t take long before disgruntled customers take things online which can ultimately have a snowball-type effect on your business if you don’t get ahead of it.

There’s a reason why Oprah magazine carefully vets products and brands before selecting them for a spot on Oprah’s coveted “Favorite Things List.” If a company doesn’t have the infrastructure and inventory in place to handle the onslaught that inevitably comes from being featured by Oprah, it can spell disaster for the company and lead to disgruntled readers for the magazine. In a year that has seen so many small businesses rush to increase their ecommerce capabilities due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to see how this type of situation could rapidly get out of hand. What’s more, customers likely have more downtime at home to go online and complain creating a perfect storm.

Whether you find your business in a similar situation as a result of your increased ecommerce sales this year, or a different type of crisis that spills online, there are a few key dos and don’ts to keep in mind in order to navigate the crisis successfully.

DON’T:

  • Attack or Blame Others – While it’s easy to get defensive, it’s important to take the hit on the chin without shifting the blame. Ultimately, you’re responsible for your business.
  • Continue to Sell Products – if your crisis revolves around an inventory lag then continuing to sell products when you can’t deliver on the sales you’ve already made will only increase the number of customers who are frustrated with you and speaking out publicly against you.
  • Block or Delete Comments/Users – If customers are commenting on your social media about these issues then it’s important to publicly address the comments rather than delete them. By addressing them publicly you are not only helping your customers feel seen, but could also proactively assuage some concerns from other customers or potential customers.

DO:

  • Apologize and Take Ownership – People want to be heard and feel seen, offer a genuine apology without excuses or shifting blame.
  • Create a Waitlist– Rather than continuing to take orders when you haven’t been able to deliver existing products, establish a waitlist so that you can continue to grow your customer base without upsetting people.
  • Offer Refunds – If you’re unable to deliver on your end of the customer transaction in a timely manner then it is incumbent on you to offer refunds – regardless of what your standard refund policy is.