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Two corporate social media disasters this week – but two vastly different reactions

Blog post   •   Nov 30, 2018 08:14 +08

South City Mall in Kolkata received a flaming for this response to a complaint. DHL's social media disaster turned out vastly different. Image source: BBC website

Okay, this just in: two companies say something explosive to customers, but we see two different reactions by social media users.

In the first story, Kolkata's South City Mall criticises a nursing mother for breastfeeding on its premises – and is pilloried.

In the second, DHL criticises the recipient of a parcel for complaining about a late delivery, yet users come to DHL's defence.

For Communications Directors, these cases demonstrate how fraught responding to complaints on social media is and raise a number of questions (at the end of this column).

South City Mall: "Please breastfeed in the toilet"

South City Mall posted this rebuke of a customer who complained on Facebook that there were no designated breastfeeding areas on the premises.


It subsequently took down the post (the image above was posted on the BBC website) and apologised:

But this was totally flamed, and since then every other post about fashion or restaurants is peppered with comments about the original breastfeeding case.

DHL: "The only thing that's shit around here is your whining"

In DHL's case, Twitter user Leon tweeted his dismay over having stayed home all day to await a parcel delivery, only to find the package is delayed. He was upset the website wasn't updated with the delivery time, and read " expected delivery time" to mean "firm delivery time":

What one of DHL's 1,000 customer service staff did deliver, however, was a sharp rebuke for the language in his tweet:

Die einzige Scheiße hier, ist Ihr Rumgeheule! "Voraussichtlich" (wie es nachweislich von uns angegeben und im Standardversand üblich ist) als "feste Daten" wahrzunehmen, grenzt schon sehr an Realitätsverlust. Und jetzt zurück zu Mami an die Brust! ^SI #wann?

— DHL Paket (@DHLPaket) November 28, 2018

Loosely translated: " The only thing that's shit around here is your whining. To take 'expected' delivery time (as we clearly stated and is customary with our standard delivery option) as 'firm' delivery time shows you are losing your grip on reality. And now back to mummy's breast!"

The fall-out

In both cases, the companies say they are transferring the staff member (DHL) or sacking the social media agency (South City Mall).

But what’s notable is:

  1. There is a conspicuous number of commentators who agree with DHL's position. Sure, there are many who say no company should ever talk to its customers like that, no matter what the circumstances ("customer is king"). But there are a surprising number who applaud the DHL staff member for pushing back against rude complainants. There are even nominations for "Employee of the month", and appeals not to sack him/her.
  2. Other companies are jumping on the bandwagon! A jobs site claimed the DHL staff member had applied for a job through its portal. Snickers Germany responded to the tweets by saying people should chill …and have another Snickers. A bedding company says the two parties should sleep on it. And a brewery says the two parties should smooth things over …over a beer:

    Zusammen ein Bierchen trinken und ausquatschen könnte helfen... 😏

    — Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan (@weihenstephan) November 29, 2018

  3. DHL hasn't taken down the offending tweet. Yes, of course they posted an apology:

Da ist richtig was schief gelaufen und darf so einfach nicht passieren! Ihre Reaktionen sind absolut nachvollziehbar. Wir entschuldigen uns aufrichtig! Wir haben bereits Konsequenzen gezogen.

— DHL Paket (@DHLPaket) November 29, 2018

But while Leon deleted his initial tweet that sparked DHL's reaction, the company is leaving its sharp rebuke up.

What's a Communications Director to do?

It might seem obvious to an arms-length observer that babies aren't parcels, and that there is a clear difference between a mall rebuking a nursing mother with a hungry baby, and a delivery service rebuking a recipient of a parcel.

Clearly, also, no one would plan to reply to complaints like these two companies did.

But the view of what's the right response and the wrong response can be clouded when you're in the thick of it, and you have to respond to social media posts on behalf of your company. There are so many inputs at play.

Communications Directors, what are your thoughts?

  1. When - if ever - is it okay to push back at customer complaints via social media?
  2. Should you delete the offending social media post (South City Mall) or leave it up (DHL)?
  3. Should you point the blame at/sack the social media agency?
  4. If you are an unrelated corporate, should you jump on the bandwagon as Snickers, the jobs portal, the bedding company and the brewery have done?
  5. How could South City Mall rescue its reputation? Would a very public launch of breastfeeding areas within the mall be too contrived?
  6. Any other points to consider?

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