How to Avoid a Viral Disaster with a Little Compassion

It didn’t have to be this way. With just a little compassion, they would have avoided a public relations nightmare.

Murfield Coaching works with individuals and organizations to solve significant problems through disruptive thinking. One of the most prevalent problems is missing opportunities by not showing compassion in times of trauma.

The Story

Sometimes the dumbest thing you can do is stubbornly stick to your policies, especially when social media goes viral.

Copper Stallion Media is a national wedding photography and video production company that understands the scarcity of time. Brides book their vendors early and, once that date is secured, wedding vendors understand likelihood of rebooking a cancelled date.. Therefore, companies like Copper Stallion clearly state in their contract that the deposit is nonrefundable. That is smart and strategic.

However, there should always be exceptions. That’s compassionate and smart business sense. To violate that compassion is where it becomes stupid.

Alexis and Justin were scheduled to be married in May of 2020. They booked Copper Stallion in November of 2019 and were looking forward to their big day. Tragically, Alexis was killed in a car accident in February. One can only imagine the grief that Justin suffered.

In the days that followed, Justin reached out to Copper Stallion in an attempt to get a refund. He knew the deposit was nonrefundable but was asking them to take the compassionate act and make the exception.  The company followed their policies and denied his request

His friends came to his defense and posted to the company’s web-page and also on a popular wedding planning site. Social media gives customers a tremendous voice and his friends knew how to use it. Right or wrong, customers have that power.

From my experience, grieving people often make irrational decisions because they are so overwhelmed with their negative emotions. Justin should have probably just let it go, suffering the loss of the $1800 deposit. But that’s not how some react in times of extreme difficulty. So he persisted and demanded the refund. His friends and family, looking to support him, joined his efforts. The result was an enraged client leading a charge to destroy the company’s reputation. While that wasn’t right, one can understand it from the situation.

Obviously no business desires negative attention and most work diligently to resolve conflicts even when they erupt on social media. But not Copper Stallion.

That’s when the company raised their lack of compassion to a stupid level.

In retaliation, they put up a website in an effort to rebut his claims. But they ramped up the hostility by posting that the contract is nonrefundable and “life is a b****.” ( To raise it to even a higher level, on May 23, 2020, the day that would have been the wedding, the company posted, “Today would have been the day where we would have filmed Justin and Alexis’ wedding. After what Justin pulled with the media stunt to try and shake us down for a refund we hope you sob and cry all day for what would have been your wedding day,”

“Compassion is coming alongside another to help alleviate their pain.”

Loren & Lisa Murfield in “The ROI of Compassion”

The ROI of Compassion

Stupid arrogance stubbornly clings to policy when it makes you look bad. Copper Stallion could have shown compassion to Justin in the very time he needed it the most. Even when he was demanding for what was not legally his, they could have stepped up and avoided the negative situation.

Compassion is selfless, purposely setting aside our own interests to help the other person. There is no question that Copper Stallion was legally right in denying the refund of a nonrefundable deposit. There is no question that they need to run a smart business. However, what did this decision cost them?

The Consequences

Imagine all the lost sales from this. Imagine the time and effort it took from the headquarters and the local videographers to deal with this fallout. It all could have been avoided for returning the $1800 deposit even when they did not have to and even when the customer became irate.

The Potential Gain

Imagine the good press they could have gotten for being compassionate. Instead of looking like the mean ogre, they get to play the compassionate business that makes the exception to wise rules. Imagine their increased sales from just Justin’s family and friends.

There will be some that claim that compassion is an unwise business practice. They will claim that providing the exception would open the company to others requesting refunds. Those claims are weak and, quite frankly, very callous and selfish. Yes, the company needs to phrase it right so there are not lawsuits (unfortunately we have to guard for that) and carefully control their communication. Being compassion is the best business practice. It does mean being wise and communicating appropriate but, in the end, it will avoid far more problems and open up opportunities traditional business often misses.

Your Challenge

In this time of COVID19 shutdown and reopening, there will be many requests that may seem unreasonable. Some of those requests are coming from people who are in significant pain. As executives, managers, Human Resources professionals, customer service reps, and anyone else in business, take a moment to think strategically before responding. Could a little compassion make the difference? Could it actually help your avoid a viral nightmare? Might it even open the door to future opportunities?

(c) 2020 Murfield International, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Loren Murfield, Ph.D.

Dr. Murfield holds a PhD in Communication and works with leaders and organizations to solve significant problems with innovative thinking. What problem is frustrating you? Contact us today.

Check out my two podcasts, “Holy Crap, How’d They Do That?” and “Trends, Bends & Opportunities.”

Learn how you can engage employees during their most traumatic moments in our newly revised and just-released book, “The ROI of COMPASSION.” Click here to purchase your copy of “Leading with the Power of Compassion.”

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