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Insanity Happens

By Sanya Weathers

The JetBlue flight attendant who hit the slide pled guilty last week, and so the saga of the employee who went berserk was concluded. (In this space, we gave a thumbs up to the way Jet Blue handled it – with a bit of wry humor, appreciation for the way every corporate slave in America was sympathizing with the desire to hit their own metaphorical slide, and assurance to the customers that no one was going to go insane on THEIR flight.) But have you considered what you will do when an employee goes insane? What about when a volunteer goes crazy? Finally, what happens when a customer goes over the edge?

One of the most wonderful thing about working in gaming and social media is that there is effectively no difference between those of us who are the professionals and those of us who are the consumers. We’re making products and offering services that we ourselves enjoy. That means we have a lot in common.

We also all have access to the internet and a variety of products that allow us to broadcast our every thought the moment it enters our brain. This means we are almost guaranteed to make mistakes, suffer errors in judgment, and generally act like chimpanzees on the day when the keepers run out of bananas.

It is not pretty when that happens.

Don’t think that your customers are different and that you’ll never have a bad day. A pro plans for the bad days.

–    Customer insanity. The more devoted the customer, the more of a true believer, the greater the chance of him burning out in a blaze of glory. We’ve talked about prevention, but what can you expect if you can’t prevent it? You can expect him to troll your forums, post on news sites about how terrible you are, harass your customer service staff, threaten you with legal action, call the BBB, go on a rampage within your product or service in ways calculated to offend or upset the other customers, post incoherent rage on your Facebook account, try to start a rude meme on Twitter, and possibly to damage your website.

The solution: Temporarily increase your moderation staff for your forums and social media. Suspend or block the customer’s account. Work with the head of customer service to develop a plan so that the company is presenting the customer with a united front. Alert your legal and web services teams. And don’t take it.

–    Volunteer insanity. See above, only worse… because it is personal with potentially a bit of “shattered dreams.” Your volunteer thought of himself as part of the team, and may have even seen his participation as the first step towards a new career.

The solution: All of the above, plus compassion. That’s right. Treat this person like a friend with whom you have a long history, because that’s what he is in his own mind (and should be in yours).This is not a situation where you want to come out with all your guns blazing. Call this person. Talk to them. If you can manage a face to face conversation, do it. What’s more expensive, a cheap flight or days of crisis management? Don’t underestimate the power of personal contact to solve problems.

–    Employee insanity. Burnout. Alcohol. Defensiveness. Frustration. Pressure from the company combined with pressure from the community. Whatever the cause, sometimes people just snap.

The solution: It depends on what form the insanity took. If your employee was rude, have him apologize. If the employee lied, don’t just remove the lies – replace them with the truth. If the employee didn’t lie, but told some truth that, strategically, you’d have rather it remained hidden, give it some context. Remind your customers that the company is made of individuals with different thoughts and ideas, but that the vast majority of the company is made of dedicated individuals who care for their customers.

And no matter who went buck wild, remember to deal with it publicly and move on, preferably with news about the product itself, because that’s what most of your customers want to hear about. This is the internet, and collectively we have the attention span of a fruit fly. A flash in the pan only burns if you give it fuel.

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