Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Handled the worst way - again

The official statement:

"Due to unexpected high traffic, the observation deck experience at the Burj Khalifa, At the Top, has been temporarily closed for maintenance and upgrade".

From a visitor:

"I was walking around the observation deck when I heard this really loud noise and what looked like smoke or dust coming out from one of the elevator doors. One of the elevators had not reached all the way to the 124th floor and I saw some people climbing a ladder from the elevator up on to the observation deck."

The story goes on with visitors' reports that around sixty people were trapped on the deck for over an hour until they were taken down by service elevator, that they were scared, angry, crying, that there was a lack of information

Absolutely typical. And absolutely the wrong way to handle issues.

It's not rocket science. First, tell the people involved what's happening. Quickly. It's not hard.

'There's a mechanical problem with an elevator. There is no danger and you will shortly be taken to the ground floor by the service elevator. While we're arranging that please continue to enjoy the view.'

Then tell the media what's happened. That's not hard either.

'There was a fault with an elevator, no-one was hurt and there was never any danger. All visitors were taken to the ground floor by service elevator. The deck will remain closed for one week, affected tickets will be refunded and there is no delay in handing over the rest of the building.' Take questions and answer them honestly.

But what's the normal way to handle a problem here?

The immediate reaction is 'can we deny it outright'?

If what's happened is too public to deny outright, make an excuse that dismisses the problem as routine or so minor as to not require comment. Under no circumstances do you say what actually happened. All senior people immediately go to ground.

Pointless. Wrong. Counter-productive. You've added hugely to the problem.

Because people who were affected reveal what really happened.

Senior people remain in hiding. The 'ignore it and it'll go away' strategy. But the damage is done and they're adding to it by their actions.

I've ranted about it many times in the past. It's not the problem that's the problem, the way you handle it is the problem. And here we have yet another repeat of the absolute worst way to handle a problem.

It's yet another blow for Brand Dubai too, because it's making news around the world. Bad news.

I've seen it in US, Australian, British, New Zealand, Indian papers already this morning.

The Huffington Post story, for example, includes:

Electrical problems are at least partly to blame for the closure of the Burj Khalifa's viewing platform – the only part of the half-mile high tower open yet. But a lack of information from the spire's owner left it unclear whether the rest of the largely empty building – including dozens of elevators meant to whisk visitors to the tower's more than 160 floors – was affected by the shutdown.

The indefinite closure, which began Sunday, comes as Dubai struggles to revive its international image as a cutting-edge Arab metropolis amid nagging questions about its financial health.

In a brief statement responding to questions, building owner Emaar Properties blamed the closure on "unexpected high traffic," but then suggested that electrical problems were also at fault.

Despite repeated requests, a spokeswoman for Emaar was unable to provide further details or rule out the possibility of foul play. Greg Sang, Emaar's director of projects and the man charged with coordinating the tower's construction, could not be reached.

The shutdown comes at a sensitive time for Dubai. The city-state is facing a slump in tourism – which accounts for nearly a fifth of the local economy – while fending off negative publicity caused by more than $80 billion in debt it is struggling to repay.

It goes on to say:

Questions were raised about the building's readiness in the months leading up to the January opening.

The opening date had originally been expected in September, but was then pushed back until sometime before the end of 2009. The eventual opening date just after New Year's was meant to coincide with the anniversary of the Dubai ruler's ascent to power.

There were signs even that target was ambitious. The final metal and glass panels cladding the building's exterior were installed only in late September. Early visitors to the observation deck had to peer through floor-to-ceiling windows caked with dust – a sign that cleaning crews had not yet had a chance to scrub them clean.

Today's story on what really happened is here.

The Huffington Post story.

A couple of previous examples of how not to handle a problem are here and here.


Anonymous said...

That should be all that matters, all new buildings have problems....

Anonymous said...

I meant to post this with my post above:

"The eventual opening date just after New Year's was meant to coincide with the anniversary of the Dubai ruler's ascent to power."

Seabee said...

Anon, as I said in reply to the same comment on my earlier post, it's simply not true that 'all new buildings have problems' when it applies to major problems.

They all have inconsequential things such as, for example, minor cracking as the building settles. But not all buildings have major defects affecting plumbing, electrical, waterproofing, elevators. Here, however, it's far too common, not only in buildings but also in underground electrical and water systems.

alexander... said...

Snap again!

The way things are handled is certainly consistent and, yes, this goes against all professional PR advice.

Seabee said...

Alex, it does make me wonder whether they actually get any advice, and if they do what advice they're getting.

Do they get the right advice and ignore it? Or are they getting the wrong advice?

Or are they operating without professional PR advice?

What they do have, as you say, is consistency - usually a good thing but not in this instance.

Dave said...

The Huffington Post story appears to be quite a well-balanced article citing both sides of the problem. But, no doubt they will be accused in time of being part of the widespread "Dubai-Bashing" media attempting to discredit the success of this Emirate, when in reality Brand Dubai continues to dig its own hole.

holiday to dubai said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Seabee said...

Dave: in reality Brand Dubai continues to dig its own hole

It doesn't learn from past mistakes, just keeps digging deeper and deeper, giving the media every excuse to repeat the bashings.

Anonymous said...

Why does anyone expect things would be different in a country run by people who get their jobs because of their family connections rather than their intelligence or any sort of demonstrated competence.

nur said...

why on earth did they bother building that stupid thing in the first place? i guess they couldn't afford the maintenance since they're in so much debt because of it!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mohammad said...

Why did you expect the reaction to be any different? This is the sort of people we are talking about:

Burj Khalifa is an architectural wonder and deserves accolades only. Trivial issues are being magnified by the media to tarnish Burj Khalifa and Dubai. Irrespective of such negative articles, Dubai past and future are highly positive, and such negative publicity only increases our confidence in Dubai.

Seabee said...

Nur, you're misinformed I'm afraid, no-one 'has so much debt because of it'.

The developer, a very profitable company anyway which made US$633 million profit in 2009, has already made a profit on this particular building.

Mohammad, that's an interesting quote. Who and where is it from?

Seabee said...

Anon@1.10, well yes, by saying: 'this would be out of topic, stupid, or a moronic comment ...and nothing of any interest to you as an australian i am sure' you've described your own comment accurately.

I have no idea what point you're trying to make.

The link you gave was to an important story (to anyone, not just an Australian) but it has no place here. It ticks the delete box for comments: "...which are simply to make a point but are completely off-subject. If you want to do that, create your own blog."

If you put it on my January 13 post it would be relevant.

rosh said...

Agreed -- morons run the show.

However, much drama coz the elevators in the world's tallest building had a few glitches?! Goes to show, those in the media have NOTHING worthwhile to do or write about...pfft

Pots and Kettles, in some ways..

Mohammad said...

Seabee, the comment is from an online business portal arabianbusiness.

Rosh, I think its definitely an important story, given that the observation deck is closed indefinitely

Seabee said...

Mohammad thanks for the info, I'll go to AB to find the story in full.

Rosh, I assume your comment was tongue in cheek. A major fault in the elevators over 100 floors up, the passengers having to be rescued by ladder, is a major story.