It’s nice when a negative experience can be turned into one that’s positive.
I think that’s the result for a wheelchair-using MS patient following a problem she had at the Mall of America a few days before the Super Bowl. For those not familiar with the Mall of America, it’s a huge shopping mall just outside Minneapolis, Minnesota. Its promotional fact sheet says that the mall covers 5.6 million square feet, or as much as nine Yankee Stadiums, 10 Great Pyramids, 24 Sydney Opera Houses, or 53 Eiffel Towers.
The Super Bowl was in Minneapolis. Both football teams playing in the Super Bowl were staying in hotels at the mall, and a lot of special events also were scheduled, making the shopping center super-crowded. Because of that, the mall blocked off some parking spots near an entrance.
Among the spots that were blocked were several handicapped spaces. And when this MS patient looked for a van-accessible spot to park, she couldn’t find one. She wound up parking in a standard width spot and exiting the van through its rear door, rather than the one on the side. That meant she had to roll into a lane of moving cars and then drive alongside them to get to the entrance that she wanted to use. When she finally got into the mall and complained about the situation, she says a security guard told her the mall is private property and it can do what it wants. Needless to say, she was upset. Like many of us do when we’re upset, she vented on Facebook:
“Thank you Mall of America for blocking All of the handicap parking spaces and telling me that it was your right because it is private property.”
After contacting the woman who wrote the post to get details about what happened, I also contacted the PR department at the Mall of America. A spokeswoman told me that the spots were blocked for “safety and security” reasons. They wanted to prevent people from crossing the street between the parking ramp and the mall during an extremely busy time, instead, forcing them to cross using skybridges on other parking levels. The spokeswoman also offered to have an executive at the mall explain this directly to this woman.
There’s a key concept in public relations crisis management called the “Three A’s”: Acknowledge the problem, apologize, and make amends. While hardly a crisis, that’s what happened here. The angry MS patient spoke with a senior vice president at the Mall of America and the result was a good one. “There was more parking on the other side, but you wouldn’t have known that from where we pulled in,” she wrote me in an email. “We talked about placing a sign up next time, saying that there is additional handicap parking here. … He apologized for the response I received Friday night. … We said at the end [that] we all have to work a little harder to make life better for everyone.”
And there’s a P.S. to this story. It turns out that the senior VP’s father has MS. I’d like to be a fly on the wall the next time the father and son have a chat.
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