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How Your Utility Should Handle a PR Crisis

When it comes to addressing problems, companies take various approaches in response.

Some avoid discussing the issue altogether. Others point the blame in one direction or another. Some make half-hearted apologies and offer a token solution.

All are bad ideas.

When it comes to a situation where your utility is going to look bad – whether it’s your fault or not – the best advice is to be honest, apologize and get things over as soon as possible.

Corporate America PR departments should study the recent response of KFC when hundreds of the company’s United Kingdom restaurants had to be closed because of a shortage of chicken caused by supplier issues. Obviously, this was quite embarrassing and drew plenty of coverage.

But KFC’s response was brilliant.

The company paid for a full-page that features an empty chicken bucket on a red background with the words “We’re Sorry” below.  And in an inspired move, the bucket doesn’t feature the usual KFC letters; instead, they’re rearranged to read FCK. A little risqué, yes, but a touch of humor works well in defusing a bad situation.

In the wording beneath “We’re Sorry,” KFC doesn’t mention its supplier issues and simply apologizes: “A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal. Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who travelled out of their way to find we were closed.”

That’s all close to perfect – it gets the issue into the open and gains the company some sympathy. People probably were talking more about the apology than the initial problem.

The public is more than willing to be forgiving especially when a company is willing to admit fault and “takes its medicine.”

How does this apply to a utility?

Most likely, you’ll be dealing with a situation where the power goes out – probably for weather, which is out of your control. Don’t blame the weather; just apologize for the outage and tell your customers you’re working to correct the problem.

Other situations might involve billing snafus or, heaven forbid, things such as executives or other employees getting arrested for something troubling.

Still, the situation is the same. Don’t make excuses. Be sincere in apologizing, explain how the problem is being corrected and pledge to do better in the future. You might be surprised how quickly the situation blows over.

Andy Gotlieb's picture

Thank Andy for the Post!

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