Lessons From The Dunkin’ Donuts Customer’s Racist Rant

Posted on June 13, 2013 
Filed Under Crisis Management, Internal Communication, Media Relations, Staffing and Management

One of the bigger viral stories of the last two days was the foul-mouthed racist rant by a Dunkin’ Donuts customer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who filmed herself abusing the store’s employees and posted the video online.

The coffee-shop chain has a policy that states that if employees neglect to provide an accurate receipt, then the customer gets their order for free.

In the video, the customer, Taylor Chapman, had made a drive-through order the prior evening and didn’t get a receipt, and she showed up the next morning loaded for bear, claiming that because she and her friends didn’t get a receipt the night before, she should get the same order that next day. Her bizarre eight-minute video got worse and then worse still, but all the while, the DD employee, 18-year-old Abid Adar, calmly and politely handled the abuse, offering to make good on the policy and provide a free order for Chapman.

Put aside for the moment that the rant was so over-the-top crazy, and that the video was first posted by an anonymous YouTube account with no prior videos, that it made the entire incident seem somehow “off.”

Consider instead how Adar was an exemplary brand ambassador, and that it took Dunkin’ Donuts a full three days after the incident to acknowledge Adar’s poise and make some form of recognition.

There are significant communications ramifications here. In no particular order, here are some that occur to me:

• Other than some Twitter responses, I’ve found no official Dunkin’ Donuts statement on the incident, hoax or otherwise. Big mistake.
• If nothing else, use a personal statement by an executive, in a press release and not just a tweet, to acknowledge that your employee, a bottom-of-the-totem-pole teenager, responded with exceptional restraint and professionalism.
• Better yet, take his story to the media and make him an example to all of your employees coast to coast.
• Remember that your people are your best brand ambassadors. Adar and a second employee, who was singled out for especially ugly invective late in the video, were either well trained or were special representatives of Dunkin’ Donuts. Sometimes the most valuable PR can come from the most unheralded and unexpected sources. Internalize that. Make it policy. Make it proactive. That way, every employee will know in advance how to deal with abusive customers.
• Rethink the policy about the receipts. It’s dumb. Most times I don’t need a receipt for my coffee, and when I do, if I don’t get it, I don’t expect a free order.

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