By Louise Findlay-Wilson, Creator Of PrPro And Owner Of Energy PR

Businesses were given a Masterclass in how not to handle a PR disaster by PayPal last week.

There was tremendous online anger aimed at PayPal after it allegedly shut down an account run by the satirical blog Regretsy.com. Regretsy was running a gift exchange in which its readers could buy toys for about 200 underprivileged children. Sadly, Regretsy used the ‘donate’ rather than ‘buy’ button and that’s where the trouble started. According to the blog, its account was frozen by PayPal. The blog was told that it had to be a not for profit in order to use the donate button, and it isn’t.

Regretsy then attempted to collect money for toys by using the buy button, and allowed the buyers to send purchased gifts to the 200 children. After what the blog post calls “a very long and jaw-dropping conversation with an incredibly condescending representative,” this approach was also stopped. PayPal insisted that unprocessed orders be refunded — and then kept all of the transaction fees!

Scrooge couldn’t have done a better job and the spectre of an angry web was mobilised!

Regretsy founder, April Winchell, blogged a couple of times in her inimitable style and over 1000 comments ensued. Other blogs mushroomed, Facebook was on fire and Regretsy then broke into Twitter’s top trends.

Only once the online world had been berating PayPal for some time (the story spread and then lingered on blogs, facebook, and twitter like a bad smell) did PayPal publish an apology on its blog. It was a ‘sorry for the inconvenience caused’ kind of an apology that didn’t sound convincing. What’s more, PayPal didn’t allow people to post comments, thus fuelling a second wave of opprobrium. In its apology it said it was dealing directly with Regretsy’s founder to remedy the situation – sadly it said this before actually speaking to her, another black mark.

The issue – so badly managed by PayPal - gave people who are already of the opinion that the company is high-handed and impossible to deal with, an opportunity to air their personal gripes on a world stage. Everyone had a ‘nightmare PayPal story’ and now had an excuse to share it.

Now you may be sitting in your office thinking ‘well that’s not something for me to worry about. I’m not that big and I will never have a global business like PayPal with the potential to annoy so many people.’

Well, you’re probably right, but there are still lessons to be learnt from the PayPal debacle, and it’s all about saying sorry...

We all get things wrong sometime, but when we do, if we say sorry in a good way we can really turn the situation around – transforming a disgruntled customer into a raving fan.

Here are the golden rules:

- Act promptly – the longer you leave it before saying or doing something the more time you are leaving for negative views and comments to spread

- Gather all the facts quickly

- If you have got something wrong say so

- Sound human in your apology – it should not read like it’s something your legal team wrote!

- Go beyond what people will expect of you to remedy things

- Allow interaction and feedback, and then interact with it

- Be accessible, proactive

- On an on-going basis, have good customer service so that your marketplace isn’t storing up a load of gripes to unleash on you

- Routinely ask for customer feedback and act on it

- Monitor for your company name and brand on twitter and in the media...so that you are alerted if people are having issues.

Despite what Elton John says, sorry shouldn’t be the hardest word. Apologising simply shows you’re listening, you’re human and you care – the very qualities people will love you for so don’t be afraid of the concept.

Follow Louise on twitter @louisefw

Louise has two businesses to help you get your PR motoring:
For more training and tools so you can do your own PR visit www.prpro.co.uk. If you are looking for a PR agency visit www.EnergyPR.co.uk

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