What We Can Learn from AirBNB and #ransackgate

As the Airbnb saga continues, Robert Scoble has checked in reminding folks how to handle crazy customer situations.

Y Combinator founder Paul Graham has also checked in saying Airbnb has most definitely helped the woman, closing with "Even if you don't believe they are nice guys (which they are, among the nicest of all the people we've funded), do you really think they are so dumb that they don't realize it's not worth the bad PR to save money and effort in this situation?

Robert's full statement below (reprinted with permission - follow him on Google+). What do you think?

[Above: the latest blog post from EJ, the woman whose apartment got trashed.]

By Robert Scoble

If you read Techmeme this morning you can see AirBNB is in a deep PR crisis: http://www.techmeme.com/110730/p4#a110730p4.

Photo credit, this is Airbnb's CEO, Brian Chesney speaking to Y Combinator's Startup School last year.

What can the rest of us learn from this?

1. Most people will believe a batshit crazy customer over a nice businessman. I'm sure at AirBnb they think this lady is batshit. But if you are working at a company, remember this, that batshit crazy customer is far more believeable than anything I've seen come out of AirBnb all week.

2. Have a single point of contact: the CEO. Part of this crisis got worse because numerous people have been speaking to the press. The first thing you should do if you are in a crisis is appoint ONE PERSON to speak to the press and represent the company. That person should be the CEO. Not Paul Graham. Not the PR team. Not some VP. Not friends. Not off the record sources. Not anyone else except the CEO. Fire anyone INSTANTLY who does not listen to the CEO and stop talking to the press. Stop everyone from Twittering, Google+'ing, Facebooking on the topic EXCEPT to point everyone to the CEO.

3. The CEO should NOT use exclusively use press to argue out his case. Why not? The press has goals that might not align with cleaning up the crisis. Instead, the CEO should USE VIDEO! Why video, instead of text? We can tell whether you are lying or not. When I see text I can't tell, but video is far more convincing. Look at how Domino's CEO responded to a crisis: http://youtu.be/s-gvs2Y2368 AirBnb should have done this. They still should do this.

4. Fix the freaking problem. Make it completely go away. If you don't understand what this means, completely means, well, completely. Does it cost a million dollars to make this customer whole? Do it. Your business will live to see another day. Don't argue about it. Do it. Look again at Dominos Pizza's video: http://youtu.be/s-gvs2Y2368

5. Get better because of it. Come out with new policies. A new attitude of humbleness, etc. Dominos did (they actually totally changed their pizza to the point I actually like it now).

What would you do if you ran AirBnb today?

By the way, when I helped run a consumer electronics store in the 1980s I had a few batshit customer crisis days. I dealt with them by:

1. Changing my attitude toward them. I imagined they were billionaires and are worth listening to.
2. I listened to them. Agreed with them. Took their side "yeah, you're right" goes so far to calm down someone who is yelling and screaming and throwing metaphorical rocks through your front window in an attempt to get your attention.
3. Apologized. A lot. A lot more than I needed to. "I'm sorry, we messed up." Goes a long way.
4. Don't sweep the problem under the covers. Deal with it then and now.
5. Find a way to turn the batshit crazy customer into an advocate. "Hey, listen, it's clear we have a problem here, can we pay you to help us find a solution here?"
6. Shut up and listen. I had one lady yell at me for half an hour once. I just listened to her. Eventually she got tired of yelling. Eventually we were able to have a conversation and she became a great customer again and, even, admitted that that day she was just having some really difficult problems in her life and she was taking it out on me. Humans aren't rational, so you've gotta let them go sometimes.
7. Sometimes the customer isn't right. Another customer I kicked out of the store. Luckily there wasn't a bunch of bloggers around waiting to write about how I was an asshole, but the customer came back in an hour and bought $2000 worth of equipment. In this world I would be especially careful of treating someone this way, though. They can start a blog and get everyone up in arms about how they were treated. Back to my first point, if we have to decide who is right we're going to side with the crazy customer EVERY SINGLE TIME. Just not fair, but that's the way humans are wired.