Optus' World Cup streaming debacle created a firestorm of bad publicity. But the company's response might save the brand from years of torment.
I apologise unreservedly to all Australians.
We should have done better, we can do better and we will do better.
- Optus CEO Allen Lew.
Bernard O'Riordan, Clarity Media Trainer It might be public enemy number one with Australian sports fans right now, but Optus is already emerging from the World Cup streaming fiasco in much better shape than it probably deserves to.
Optus Sport has been on the receiving end of a brutal social media backlash over its FIFA World Cup streaming debacle, with thousands of subscribers unable to watch the biggest sporting event in the world online due to a critical technical failure.
The anger and frustration gave rise to the #Floptus hashtag on social media and was later replicated in a damaging front page splash in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.
It had all the hallmarks of the #Vodafail campaign that dogged Vodafone Australia for years when its mobile network kept crashing.
But there is one big difference that will probably save the Optus brand from years of torment: Optus put its hand up straight away, while Vodafone stubbornly refused to admit it had a problem.
From a crisis PR perspective, the way the two brands responded in a crisis was like chalk and cheese.
It’s a point not lost on Optus chief executive Allen Lew, whose company paid SBS $8 million for the right to stream all 64 of the World Cup matches in Russia.
Lew was front and centre all week listening to customers and working hard to diffuse their anger. He apologised and promised to resolve the problem, so customers instantly felt heard.
That’s a crucial learning for any company in a situation like this: if you don’t apologise early and show that you care, emotions escalate and soon reach boiling point. That's when the real brand damage occurs.
In a gesture of goodwill, the telco offered refunds to its affected customers along with free access to the Optus Sport app until the end of August. Its 'Fetch Mini' set top boxes are also being given away to affected customers without charge for 12 months.
One thing is for sure, the Optus World Cup debacle shows that people power is a force to be reckoned with on social media, especially when the Prime Minister weighs in. It also highlights the need for companies to respond fast to prevent a scrub fire turning into a major blaze.
You might not be able to stop your brand being hijacked by a viral hashtag, but you can limit the damage - and the duration - by owning the problem and showing that you genuinely care.
While Singtel-owned Optus is the first to admit it has some work to do rebuilding its image and brand, there's no denying its quick response has helped calm the storm.
Customers, when treated fairly, are also pretty forgiving. That's why, despite the genuine frustration many people are feeling, this drama should be short-lived.
Here are few basic tips to consider if you or your brand faces a firestorm in the press or on social media:
Apologise and Mean It
Did you know people who apologise, even for things they can’t control, are scientifically more likeable? Well, according to a Harvard study, people (and big brands) who give a genuine apology are not only more appealing, but they also tend to be more persuasive when it's done right. Optus’ woes might soon be forgotten based purely on the fact that its CEO's apology came from the heart and the head.
Communicate Early and Often
Crisis management is all about communicating effectively, but it took three nights of technical glitches and fed up customers before Optus started talking. (Admittedly it was a weekend, but that's no excuse in a crisis). By then, the maddening crowds with their pitchforks were already baying for blood on social media. When Lew did finally talk on Monday, he spoke honestly, openly and transparently. He didn't shy away from tough questions about brand damage, and he apologised profusely.
Hug The Haters
As with any dispute, it’s terribly difficult not to like someone who is warm, apologetic ... and laden with freebies. That’s why Optus has gone on the warpath of goodwill by offering upset customers refunds, free access to its sports app and free access to its set top boxes. It needs to win back trust and has wasted no time encouraging customers to test drive its services for free.
Invest in Your Business
Vodafone started turning its fortunes around by investing billions of dollars in its network and increasing the number of Australian call centre staff. Optus insist it hasn't skimped on backend infrastructure, but it's clear its system wasn't up to scratch. For Australians to trust Optus Sport in the future with major streaming events, it will need to clearly articulate what went wrong and how it's fixed things. That includes employing extra customer support staff the next time there's a major streaming event, just in case things do go pear-shaped.