Social Media Risk – The “Eff-off” Heard Round the World

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Customers are no Joke

What would you do if one of your support employees, in an email to another support employee, advised that the best method of support was to “Tell the customer to “eff-off” (with the “eff” spelled out)?

What if the foul-mouthed employee’s response was accidentally copied to the customer?

apologiesAnd, what if the offended customer posted the exchange on Twitter?

Do you have a policy for this? Would you know it was happening because you are monitoring social media carefully? What corrective action would be taken with the employee? How would you repair the relationship with the customer?

Would you alert your company CEO?


Now what if the flippant employee is the CEO? Got a policy for that?

This is exactly the scenario in which California-based, same-day urban logistics delivery company Postmates found itself recently.

GeekWire detailed this instance after seeing a Tweet from Erin Boudreau — a Seattle business listed in the Postmates delivery service partners list — who wrote several times to Postmates customer service to have the listing removed.

According to a response that Boudreau posted to Twitter, Postmates CEO Bastian Lehmann responded by telling customer service reps at the company to tell her to “^%$k off.” In an apology posted on the Postmates blog, Lehmann said his private email was a “bad joke” that was “very poor in taste.”

“Last night I sent a private e-mail to our Customer Service team in response to a customer complaint regarding her past orders and restaurant profile. My e-mail, which outlined how to resolve the customer issue, contained a bad joke which was very poor in taste. Subsequently, the bad joke was sent to the customer. What I said was a major lapse in judgement[sic] on my part. I deeply regret this.

I immediately reached out to the customer and offered my full and sincere apology. I would like to extend that same apology to all of our customers and Customer Service team. There is no excuse for this.

At Postmates we love and value our world-class Customer Service. We take great pride in our Customer Service team. However, with my comment I have not lived up to our own standards and also damaged my team’s reputation.

I cannot find the words to describe how much I value our customers and how deeply I care about them being happy. There is no excuse for this type of conduct.

I take full responsibility for my actions. I am sincerely sorry.

Bastian Lehmann”

Ms. Boudreau later Tweeted apologypostmates“For what it’s worth, I accept @basti‘s apology. However I don’t believe instructing his team to tell me to “*&%$ off” was a joke or typo.

Neither do we.

The CEO sets the voice for the company.  Internal communications are where the most care must be taken – that’s where the serious work is being done; if the CEO “jokes” that customers don’t matter, the entire organization becomes inured to that mind-set.

In an apologetic stream of Tweets, Mr.  Lehmann states that “…we made a mistake…”

No “we” here Mr. Lehmann, you made a mistake and owe an apology not just to Ms. Boudreau and your other customers, but to every employee in your company who thought they were there to deliver extraordinary customer service.

Effective social media communication is integral to the larger process of information exchange aimed at eliciting trust and promoting understanding of relevant issues or actions. Good social media communication aids such efforts by:

  • Building, maintaining or restoring trust
  • Improving knowledge and understanding
  • Guiding and encouraging appropriate attitudes, decisions, actions and behaviors
  • Encouraging collaboration and cooperation
  • Delivering critical, time sensitive information from a trusted source

At Firestorm, we use the words “maturity” and “trust” a great deal. Whether via external or internal communication, these words must be the guiding mantra of any business, no matter the size. When we detail 5 Common Failures we have identified in companies in a crisis, “Failure to train employees” is #2, and it starts with the CEO.

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