When ‘Sorry’ seems to be the hardest word …

When ‘Sorry’ seems to be the hardest word …

Last Sunday night – a classic June summer’s evening – where we literally watched the sun go down on Sir Elton John – Captain Fantastic himself. Along with most of the audience, we fitted a certain ‘age profile’ and most people there were loyal fans of MANY years – me since 1972. However, I was surprised to find myself learning an interesting business lesson about the value of a great relationship with your customers.

Part of the Elton John brand over the years has been his ‘tiara’s and tantrums’ persona so when he let forth with a major rant about the stewarding, we weren’t too surprised. That it went on – and on! – and became evermore colourful in its tone was more of a surprise.

In particular he vented against a particular stewarding lady who he felt was taking her crowd control duties too far – he accused her of stopping his fans from enjoying the show by getting them to sit down and to not wave their arms. She stormed off in tears.

Just one song later and Elton apologised profusely explaining how frustrated he gets on behalf of his fans who have paid good money, and who have supported him over the years. They deserved better. He said he knew the guys were only ‘doing their job’ and that the issue was more about how they’d been briefed. The lady in question arrived on stage later to hugs and apologies from Sir Elton – she even sat with ‘Rocket Man’ at the piano and he dedicated his next song to her.

The audience loved it of course.

road-rageCompare this, however, with the sorry episode a couple of weeks back in Richmond Park where a local business owner was caught on a cyclists ‘head cam’ in a shocking road-rage incident. He objected – at every level – to cyclists using the road versus cycle paths and was incandescent with rage. He drove so close to the cyclist in question that the rider must have been terrified for his life.

Throughout his rant, his number plate was clearly on view and it didn’t take long for the social media machine to identify the guy in question – Mr Jason Wells – and it turns out he owns a string of coffee shops across South London.

Many of his customers are cyclists of course – almost by definition given the location – and a boycott of the chain was quickly in force. In fact, cyclists or not, the comments of most made it clear they’d be finding a new outlet for their caffeine requirements in future.

Several days into the fiasco Mr Wells did finally apologise and voluntarily went to his local police station, although no charges were brought.

See the extraordinary road rage video here>>

The contrast could not be greater in my opinion…

  • Elton’s rant came from a place of ‘love’ for his audienceAngry Man’s came from a place of utter contempt
  • Elton recognised the value of his audience’s good opinion and sought to put matters right immediately – Mr Wells didn’t even consider that the people he was raging against were his audience
  • Elton ranted in front of 16,000 people – he’s a real pro and will have completely understood the power of Twitter and Facebook and the need to get a positive message out there to balance things out. There has been almost no negative messaging as a result.
  • Mr Wells ranted in front of about 10 people – he didn’t event consider the possible impact of social media – despite the fact that his entire tirade was directed at a man wearing a camera on his head! The video of the incident has since had over 700,000 views on YouTube alone and all of the comment has been negative.

So, the lessons …

  • Underestimate the power of your audience’s opinion of you and what you do at your peril – Gerald Ratner learned that very hard lesson many years ago
  • Great customer relationships and loyalty are hard won – if you do have a bit of a wobble, all the good work you’ve done in the past building your relationship with your customers WILL pay dividends but only IF you do the ‘right thing’ and are open and honest with them
  • Your message MUST be authentic and consistent all of the time – you can’t just switch it on when people are putting cash in your pocket
  • If you ever doubted the power of social media – doubt it no more!
  • And if you are in business, remember you cannot separate your business and privates social media profiles – if it’s out there it will find you!

So, what’s the worst social media business gaff you’ve come across?


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