Reporter Faints on Live TV: Lessons in Brilliant Customer Service
Last month, a video went viral showing reporter Brooke Graham passing out on live television. But the most intriguing part of the video is not Ms. Graham passing out, it’s everything that happened afterward.
Dealing with Embarrassment
The video opens on Brooke Graham standing in the snow, wearing cross country skis. A few words into the interview, she passes out and falls backward. She wakes immediately, but she’s lying on the ground, embarrassed and confused.
Meanwhile, Richard Hodges (the man she was trying to interview) quickly pulls off his own skis and drops to the ground. He quietly pulls Brooke’s skis off and puts a concerned hand on her leg. Brooke recovers sufficiently to continue the interview, so Richard goes along with it.
And they finish the interview successfully.
Making a Graceful Recovery
Richard is the star of this video. As President of the Utah Nordic Alliance, Richard Hodges appeared for the interview to promote his organization. When Brooke passed out, it could have been his embarrassment and his lost opportunity.
If Richard had stayed in his skis, embarrassed for or about the reporter, the interview would have been over. If he’d displayed discomfort or aversion, it would have reflected poorly on him and his organization.
But Richard took off his skis.
Deal With It, Don’t Avoid It
Embarrassment happens. Customers are actually okay with problems, provided you recover well. A good recovery, like Richard’s, rushes to respond. The urgent response communicates “your discomfort is important to me.” Avoiding or denying the embarrassment only magnifies and prolongs the problem.
The awkwardness of embarrassment comes from not knowing what to do. Seeing someone like Richard step up and take decisive action eases our discomfort and gives us confidence in that person. We naturally look to them with respect.
Show Concern for Others, Not Yourself
In the video, Richard is clearly more concerned about the reporter than about how this might affect him. And it makes us want to trust him. By putting the reporter ahead of himself, Richard greatly improved his own standing in the situation.
This is where most companies turn faux pas into PR nightmares. When police arrested 4 teens for rapping their order at McDonalds, the company responded by defending their employee’s decision to call 911. When baggage handlers broke Dave Carroll’s $3500 guitar, United Airlines’ customer service reps deflected responsibility for months. Defending yourself before taking care of your customers means losing a golden opportunity to be the hero.
Take Your Cue from Your Customer
When Brooke Graham tried to continue the interview, Richard went with it. They were still on the ground. The reporter might have passed out again. But she wanted to keep going, so he went with her version of moving past the embarrassment.
Listen to your customers. Somewhere in their communication, they will tell you exactly how to resolve the situation. Dave Carroll asked United to pay for his guitar repairs, and if they had agreed, Dave would have dropped the issue long before making his viral music video.
It’s Your Culture, Not Your Slogan
As a CEO, you have to rely on your employees to resolve customer complaints. The only way to ensure inspiring customer service at every level of the organization is to build it into the culture. Without that, it may be your value but not yet your employees’ value. Programs, PR, and initiatives will fail if the culture doesn’t permeate to every level of the organization.
This was United Airline’s problem. Jeff Smisek, CEO of United, said that customer service is important to him. But since the United Breaks Guitars video, the airline still managed to lose Dave Carroll’s luggage and a ten-year-old girl. The problem isn’t values at the top, it’s penetration throughout the company.
Create a Culture of Heroism—Quickly
Fortunately, company culture can change rapidly if you’re smart about it. Start with the smallest possible changes with the greatest impact. For example, to transform your customer service culture, start here:
Change 1: Forget Perfection—Be the Hero Instead
This excellent research explains why customer loyalty programs fail. The real opportunity isn’t in delighting your customers up front—they expect that. The best you can do is not disappoint them, and perfection is disproportionately expensive.
The real opportunity comes when something goes wrong. Step up quickly and brilliantly, and your customers love you for it. They may even tell the world. When Brooke fainted, Richard quietly saved the day, and more than five million YouTubers have seen it so far. You can’t buy publicity like that.
Even if it was your mistake, you can still be the hero. Just look at these 11,000 reviews for the EatSmart scale on Amazon.com. The scale is nice, but they rave about the after-sale service when something wasn’t right.
The best thing about giving heroic service is that one empowered employee or “tiger team” can pull it off. This allows small initial changes in culture to have dramatic, self-reinforcing impacts on the customer and the company over time.
Change 2: Meetings Determine Destiny
Your meetings reflect and create your culture, so to change your culture, you need to change your meetings. You say “customer service is important,” but do your meetings say otherwise? What do you discuss when you meet? Do you get excited about yesterday’s burning customer issues or do you endure metrics, reports, and death-by-PowerPoint? Boring, unfocused meetings mean bored, unfocused staff. Exciting, meaningful meetings on interesting, core issues create engaged staff who actually care.
Change your meetings, and you change your culture. Change your culture, and you change your future.
Seize the Opportunity
The next time you face a customer service disaster, think of the reporter in the snow. Make yourself the hero, no matter whose fault it was.
Or better yet, start the change now, before the next blowup. Your customers and shareholders will love you for it.