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What Negotiators Can Learn About Grievance Handling from the Optus Blackout

Ben Byth
What Negotiators Can Learn About Grievance Handling From The Optus Blackout

A lot of scrutiny falls onto leaders about how they communicate and the actions they take when things go wrong. No one will forget BP’s Chief Tony Hayward saying “I want my life back” to reporters after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  


Even though in reality serious grievances are relatively rare, what we must learn is that how we handle them is important - because the people involved are very unlikely to forget how they felt anytime soon. Just reflect on how many people you know that will never fly a particular airline or do business with one of the banks because of how their representatives behaved and the process they took to settle a grievance.  


Where we see companies making the biggest mistakes is how they try to make it up to customers. After Australian Telco Optus’ major 13-hour outage affecting 10 million customers directly and the rest of the nation indirectly through outages at hospitals and public transport, Optus offered customers free data as a gesture.  


Many customers were impressed with Optus’ offer, but some rightly protest that free data doesn’t help them… so the mere act of offering a concession to fix the problem can actually make it worse for those affected. In an ideal scenario, even understanding that it would be a much more difficult thing to administer, Optus would give their customers some choice in how they would like to be compensated.  


What we have found when we ask people what we need to do in order to settle a grievance is that they mostly propose something reasonable or a simple apology (which you should be happy to trade for satisfaction of their grievance). Of course, sometimes people will ask for a lot… and that’s when the negotiating skills kick in to qualify their asks and either negotiate them down or you up to an outcome.   


So, next time you are negotiating the settlement of a grievance you/your-company has caused, think about whether you want to jump out of the gate with a proposal and a gesture, or whether you want to ask them what could work. 


Happy negotiating! 

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