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Handling Call-Out Culture: Re-Build Customer Trust After a Mistake

Learn how to navigate call-out culture and turn potentially negative PR into a positive outcome.

Janey Velasco
Janey Velasco
5 min read
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As you know, we live in society where we can easily and publicly voice—or call out—our support or dissatisfaction with brands at the push of a button. Cambridge defines this call-out culture as, “a way of behaving in a society or group in which people are often criticized in public for their words or actions, or asked to explain them.” 

Although the effectiveness of call-out culture is highly debated, social media, forums, and online reviews have made it common for businesses of any size to get caught up in PR debacles. With this being our reality, having a plan in place to manage call-outs toward your business is imperative to good customer loyalty and retention

Whether an employee had a disagreement with a customer and was called out in a review or the wording of a social media post was seen as insensitive, the tips below will help you turn these mistakes into learning opportunities and provide your audience with an honest response to help you move forward. For general social media best practices and trends check out this guide. 

Put Your Emotions Aside

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As an owner, it’s often difficult to avoid going into defense mode and dissociate yourself from your business when being called out. However, to diffuse a bad situation and increase your probability of reaching a positive outcome, it’s important to think with a cool head. 

If it helps, think of the ideal way another business would respond to the same situation—maybe even look at past examples and their outcomes. Remove the emotion from the situation to avoid taking it as a personal attack and instead, see it as an opportunity for growth and improvement. 

Take a Breath and Listen

Although it’s important to act quickly when being called out, be sure you take some time to listen and truly understand your audience’s point of view. Whether you were called out on an issue of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or something else, educate yourself as best you can on the topic to help you see their point of view and empathize with their experience. 

If the comments have worsened and others are engaging with their own input, read and listen to these comments, likes, or shares. Before you make a decision on how to respond, it’s important to take in how the rest of your followers and customers feel about the issue.

Align With Your Team

Team around a table putting together a plan.

Promptly get together with your team, and go over your plan of action. Discuss how to respond to clients via social media, phone calls, or in-person interactions. Draft a few scenarios with follow-up questions and comments you may receive and be prepared with the steps you’d take to proceed with each. 

If it was an ad or a social media post that was deemed inappropriate, it’s also recommended to take it down. However, after taking the post down, don’t bury it and pretend it never happened—you’ll want to respectfully address the situation, so be ready with your response. 

Craft An Authentic Response

People take notice of your actions, responses, and stances on social justice issues. In fact, social tolerance is the 12th highest-held personal value in the U.S., and according to a survey by Markstein, 70% of consumers want to know what the brands they support are doing to address social and environmental issues. 

In this same survey, 46% of respondents admitted they pay close attention to a brand’s social responsibility efforts when choosing to do business with them. Therefore, you want to make sure your response is authentic. The best approach usually involves admitting the mistake, taking responsibility, and committing to do better in the future. 

Try to avoid making excuses, blaming, or ignoring the issue altogether. A bad response after being called out increases your chances of being boycotted by customers by 43%

Follow-Up With Meaningful Actions

As part of your commitment to doing better, create a plan of meaningful action to regain your customers’ trust. Even small but consistent actions show your audience that your apology or response is more than just performative. 

Depending on the issue you were called out on, your plan can include: 

  • Implementing new inclusivity policies. 
  • Committing to diversifying your team by X%.
  • Creating campaigns where proceeds go to groups and communities in need. 
  • Creating a panel where people can share their stories and experiences.
  • Supporting other small businesses owned by minorities or marginalized groups.

Monitor the Outcome

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Next, you want to monitor the outcome of your response. Frankly, cancel culture doesn’t typically happen overnight. When a crowd decides to “cancel” a brand, it’s usually after repeated offenses without any meaningful response or actions taken to correct them. 

Keeping track of the responses you receive will help you gauge whether or not you need to add, tweak, or go full steam ahead with your proposed plan. 

Once you put your plan in action, remember to be transparent with your audience by providing follow-up updates and results from your initiatives. 

Create an Educational Plan

Depending on the issue, you may need to put together an internal educational plan for your team. If you’re trying to encourage inclusivity and an understanding of complex issues, incentivize your team to learn about the experiences of others. 

You can:  

  • Hire an expert to come in and talk on the issues. 
  • Start a team book club and select educational titles to cover each month. 
  • Set up a monthly check-in where the team can suggest ideas for a healthier work culture. 

Download our shareable infographic with these steps below. 

click to download infographic.

Although being called out can be overwhelming as a small business, remind yourself and your team that it’s common and okay to make mistakes. Having different ethnic backgrounds, traditions, and growing up in different communities can keep us from fully understanding the experiences of others. 

However, if your response is genuine and you’re willing to put in the work to become part of the solution, you will still have customers and an audience that will support your company. For additional social media best practices and growth trends this year, download our free guide below.

click to download website and social media trends guide.

Janey Velasco
Janey Velasco
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