Poor Customer Issue Remediation on Twitter Results in PR Catastrophe for Aetna

Image of poopstrong logo

If you’re like me, your morning routine consists of reading a litany of marketing, social media, tech and advertising blogs. And, I must admit, sometimes I wonder: Am I learning anything new?

Last Thursday, I was copiously reassured that, indeed, there are some good morsels packed into my daily reads. Like this crucial takeaway, for instance: TAKE ALL CUSTOMER REMIDIATION ISSUES OFFLINE.

If this simple methodology had been followed, Aetna, one of America’s largest health insurers, and its outspoken CEO Mark T. Bertolini, @mtbert, might have avoided some very hot—dare I say, scalding—water.

What can be mildly called “The Episode” began last Tuesday, July 24, when an unassuming social media rep for Aetna scraped up some generic, flowery language for a disgruntled 31 year-old Stage IV colon cancer patient named Arijit Guha, @Poop_Strong.

Arijit, a doctoral student at Arizona State University, made a sarcastic comment via tweet about a seemingly innocuous 4th Quarter corporate earnings article shared by Aetna, @Aetna:

Image of Aetna's tweet to poopstrong
In response, Aetna replied: We want you to be empowered to be healthy and make informed decisions.

Arijit, who was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer in February 2011, was covered under Aetna until his student health plan hit its lifetime cap earlier this year, leaving him stranded with over $118K in unpaid medical bills for his continuing treatment.

This cookie-cutter response, as you can imagine, struck a nerve with both Arijit—and a hoard of his friends and supporters:
Image if the initial response

And this was only the beginning. Since Aetna discontinued Arijit’s coverage earlier this year, he has since built an arsenal of devout supporters through his campaign “Poop Strong,” which sells t-shirts, onesies and other branded merchandise in order to cover the cost of his medical bills. To date, over 1,500 people have contributed to the cause, raising a combined $100K+. And many of these same people rushed to his defense on Twitter.

What ensued was a Twitter beating. After awhile, Bertolini had clearly had enough. This is how he “composedly” entered the conversation in response to claims that Aetna supplied less-than-quality coverage:
Image of tweets when Mark Bertolini Enters
Right here—right here is where it happens: Mark T. Bertolini opens maybe one of the largest can of worms of his life. Condescension, I would throw out there, maybe wasn’t the best strategy.

Instead of making the mistake of entering into a firestorm of angry, passionate Arijit supporters tackling a morally-sensitive issue, Bertolini could have avoided all that ensued by following these two simple steps:

1)   Apologizing for Arijit’s frustration and situation.

2)   Offering to take the matter offline to be remediated.

Instead, for a period of several hours, Bertolini digs himself silly into a colossal hole, embarrassing himself and Aetna:
Image of poopstrong response
Again, instead of taking the high road, Bertolini opts for adding fuel to the fire by patronizing Arijit’s choice of student healthcare, comparing his decision to that of purchasing car insurance. Let’s remember, Arijit is—this whole time—fighting a life-threatening disease:
Image of Bertolini's condescending tweets
As the Twitter war wages on, accusations and insults are flying, including attacks on Bertolini’s excessive salary, Aetna’s profit margins and lack of a moral compass. 28 hours later, after a level-headed and conclusive statement by Chris Ashworth, @Chris_Ashworth, Bertolini finally resigns himself to his wrongdoing:
Image of Chris Ashworth's tweet

Pay close attention to Bertolini’s final response:

I get it and I own it. There is a lot to do to make it right. First thing’s first. To solve Arijit’s problem.

If only he had led with this statement…

Less than a day later came this conclusion to a heck of a story:
A happy ending to a tough story to swallow. And this was not a victory on lost ears. Shortly following the announcement, Arijit received coverage from several major news outlets:

And the cherry on top: the $100K+ raised since February 15 as part of the Poop Strong campaign will now be donated to other cancer patients in need.

To read what amounts to the majority of the Twitter transcript, visit the Poop Strong Twitter stream.

It will blow your mind.

Photo Credit: poopstrong.org