FedEx Delivers a Lesson in Responding to a Negative Viral Video

On Dec. 19, 2011, just six days before Christmas, the communications team at Memphis-based FedEx had a small problem.

A customer uploaded 21 seconds of video to YouTube. The remarkably clear footage shows a delivery person tossing a new computer monitor over a home’s front gate.

With the distinct FedEx truck in the background, this wasn’t exactly the type of logo placement a brand marketer wants.

Remember the countless FedEx logo placements in the 2000 movie Cast Away starring Tom Hanks as a company pilot washed up on a deserted island with packages from the shipping giant? Well, this YouTube gem was nothing like Hanks’ movie.

Here’s what the customer said along with the disturbing video. “The sad part is that I was home at the time with the front door wide open. All he would have had to do was ring the bell on the gate."

Perhaps the FedEx employee thought no one was watching, but the homeowner’s surveillance camera caught the careless delivery in high definition. That’s an important reminder for anyone interacting with or serving the public.

By Dec. 20, this small problem was now huge as the customer video had gone viral with one million views.

Not letting it fester

Luckily, FedEx’s communicators were listening and responded on Dec. 21 with a video of their own.

Matthew Thornton III, senior vice president of U.S. Operations, stated, “Along with many of you, we've seen the video showing one of our couriers carelessly and improperly delivering a package the other day. … I want you to know that I was upset, embarrassed, and very sorry for our customer's poor experience. This goes directly against everything we have always taught our people and expect of them. It was just very disappointing."

Thornton said the employee in the video was disciplined and not working with customers.

Lots of eyeballs get people talking

The original monitor-throwing video continued to take off on YouTube.  By Dec. 22, YouTube reported 4.5 million views.

As of Jan. 11, 2012, 8.2 million viewers had watched the clip.

As a point of comparison, about 7.3 million viewers watched Modern Family last week on ABC according to Nielsen Ratings.

What communicators can learn from FedEx

Dissecting the brisk response by FedEx, communicators  and brand marketers can take away a few best practices to apply to their organizations or clients.

  1. FedEx was prepared.
  2. The company already was monitoring and listening online, so it was able to identify the emerging communications risk. Plus, it already had a YouTube channel of its own to respond with its own video — now seen by more than 464,400 viewers.
  3. FedEx was fast.
  4. What else would you expect from a company so focused on speed? The company didn’t wait days to officially respond.
  5. FedEx was sincere, candid and understanding.
  6. Thornton’s video message struck the delicate balance of letting customers know it would not tolerate that type of behavior. Thornton apologized on behalf of his company and personally addressed the issue. The video also created some good news of its own as FedEx worked to restore customers’ faith and trust in its brand.

The only thing that Jonathan Rhudy has thrown on a customer’s lawn was the Richmond News Leader during his days as a paperboy, but he always knew he would get a bigger tip at Christmas for delivering the paper on the front porch.