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Not In My House: Crisis Management In The Service Industry

For a particular demographic, the most popular and viral video of 2018 will now forever be the one that was spreading like wildfire over the last two weeks, the infamous Salmon-Gate video. 

It’s tough to be in the Service industry, and that holds true anywhere in the world. While the adage of The Customer Is Always Right is drummed into your head whether you’re handling a five star hotel, posh restaurant, turo-turo or bedspacer establishment; the truth of the matter is you also have to know how to stand your ground, and not be stepped on or abused. There always will be customers from hell. 

And mind you, the converse also holds true—there are establishments or executives/managers who abuse and look down on their customers, banking on their reputation, pedigree, or misguided ‘what have you’ attitude. The prologue of Crazy Rich Asians is a sterling example of how this can happen; and yes, if only all of us could just quietly seethe and buy the hotel as our comeback. Truth is, quite often, even if we may have some legitimate gripe, we Filipinos are reluctant to be confrontational, and we just pay the bill, only to rant on social media after.

So granted that Salmon-Gate was amicably settled and the actual incident transpired in late June, why did this video surface at all in September? And given that it did, what lessons are to be learned from this, and how was the crisis managed? To the first question, I have to confess I have no answer that I can say would be the gospel truth. But fortunately, there are points we can discuss regarding the second two-part query.

 

Illustration by Alfred Amado

 

The first very obvious lesson is always be very praning. In this day and age of social media and where every smartphone user can possess papparazzi delusions; you are fair game. Whether in a public place or a private establishment you may own, the probability of someone holding a smartphone and recording your outburst is very high. The sex videos of Kim, Paris, Hayden were just the precursors of how one can never be too wary or careful. Just recently, the incidents of the male motorist in Magallanes with the security guard, or the girl on the MRT, are both proof positive of how the likelihood of someone is watching and creating a video can never be discounted.

We may lose our tempers, go ballistic, even regret it after; but once recorded and having gone viral, no amount of apologizing can truly refute the public’s perception or impression made. When you’re in a very public position, or have carefully cultivated a social persona, the unfortunate truth is we love to see you falter, or be pulled down a notch—watching the Mighty stumble or fall is great spectator sport. And when you’re representing an institution that’s supposed to be exclusive, and the domain of our Alta Sociedad, the spotlight on you is that much brighter.

So when the video went viral, it did so in a big way. I’ve talked to several people who first saw it when Filipino friends living abroad would send it to them. We may ask what does one do to ameliorate the situation and create effective damage control—after all, the reputation of the establishment, and the individual concerned, has been put in question. Well, there are no hard and fast rules; but we can agree that it couldn’t be left unaddressed.

Saying it was purely a private matter that had been resolved, and could people desist from sharing the video or making assumptions, was just wishful thinking. It had already gone viral, so that initial joint statement merely added fuel to the fire—piquing the curiosity of those who may not have seen the video yet.

For savvy PR practitioners, a crisis requires just one designated spokesperson (to avoid conflicting or unresolved statements) and to humanize the situation (as opposed to faceless establishments issuing statements); and if an apology is in order, do it quickly and be sincere. 

Do not hide behind formal language or make it sound like a press release. Just think back to the United Airlines fiasco of April last year—the forced deplaning of a fully paid passenger. The terse, couched in officialese apology issued by United CEO’s merely brought about a fresh PR crisis. 

When a new September 28 signed statement came out from the establishment, a far better tonality and sincerity was evident. Yes, it’s obvious that this was now being released in response to the viral nature of the video itself, and not the incident that caused the video to happen. But at least here was a damage-controlling kind of apology, and an admission of how ‘the Salmon stunk’ and that ‘we are aware of this, and doing something’. For the establishment, this was a step in the right direction.

Social media is a harsh critic, having democratized what used to be strict, verifiable journalism standards. As has been said, ‘The Lie can be halfway around the world before the Truth has put its shoes on.’ In such an environment, one can never be too vigilant or careful; but when s_ _ _ happens as it invariably does, be honest and sincere, speak from the heart, and when it’s possible, even ask for help. The simple gesture of asking for help can sometimes sway public opinion in your favor.

To remain silent, obstinate, refusing to apologize publicly, leaves only a bad taste in the mouths of those who have judged you. I hate to be cynical, but sometimes, even crocodile tears are more than enough. But yes, you will survive this, we Filipinos love to forgive and forget... in time.

 

Lead image from Unsplash

Illustratrion by Alfred Amado