The Scoop: SmileDirectClub leaves customers frowning with brusque shutdown message

Plus: Southwest’s CEO vows to do better this holiday and Walmart accommodates for neurodiversity.

Dental model and dental equipment on blue background, Dentistry concept.

SmileDirectClub promised to help customers straighten their teeth for a more affordable price than traditional orthodontia.

But when the company abruptly shut down last week, it left customers uncertain about what’s to become of their teeth — and their money.

The Guardian reported that customers are being left in the lurch mid-treatment, with the company’s clear aligners still on their teeth but no records to share with other dental professionals to complete the treatment.

“There’s nothing. Now I don’t even have any proof that I’ve ever had my smile straightened. No other doctor is willing to help me without that proof, so the only way I can get help is if I start all over again, and have my teeth straightened for three, four or five thousand dollars. SmileDirectClub left me with no options, and I’m freaking out a bit,” one patient told The Guardian.

The website features an incredibly brusque message informing visitors that no customer service, dental service or service of any kind is available — but that patients are still expected to pay up for services they’ll now never receive. Their lifetime guarantee has also been discontinued.

As for refunds: “There will be more information to come once the bankruptcy process determines next steps and additional measures customers can take.”

Why it matters

Shuttering operations is obviously a major step that no one takes lightly. But given that the company filed for bankruptcy in September, this was a scenario that should have come with solutions for customers. This is more than just people’s money (though that’s important) — it affects their health and ability to get ongoing treatment.

SmileDirectClub’s assertion that customers must continue paying without receiving anything in return will certainly be challenged in court. But in the short term, people’s health is at risk.

This serves as a stark reminder that it’s always good to plan for the very worst-case scenario, especially if bankruptcy is on the table. This is not a task that’s in the hands of comms alone, of course. Legal, logistics and other departments must be involved. But the statement left on SmileDirectClub’s website is impressive in its negligence and apparent callousness, given its refusal to offer any help while holding their hand out for payment.

Brands may avoid going down in quite so many flames if they do right by their customers and people on the way out.

Editors Top Picks

  • Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan is vowing that there will be no repeat of last year’s travel meltdown that left thousands of travelers stranded over the winter holiday, CNBC reported. Jordan pointed to improved technology and an investment in de-icing equipment to combat frigid December weather in much of the country. He acknowledged that “Winter will not be perfect,” but unequivocally pledged that things will be better. It’s a bold, confident statement from a leader — if only the company can back it up.
  • Walmart is making DE&I more than a buzzword and taking strides to make its stores truly inclusive. The Wall Street Journal reported that the super stores are implementing sensory friendly hours from 8 – 10 a.m., when traffic is traditionally lighter. They turn down the music and TV volume, dim the lights and help create a calmer environment that can help neurodivergent people shop and work more comfortably. According to a Walmart spokesperson, the idea came from an internal committee that works with employees with disabilities. “Our reason for doing this is just allowing everyone to have a better shopping experience,” Cedric Clark, executive vice president of store operations for Walmart U.S., told the Wall Street Journal “There was no guidance or insights on this having any financial impact.” Yet often welcoming everyone in and making them comfortable does lead to a positive impact — and good PR.
  • Threads has finally launched in the EU. Five months after the X competitor was released in the U.S., it’s now hit this major market, CNN reported. Meta leadership said the extended delay was caused by the European Union’s regulatory environment. Next on the docket for the text-based social app is fact-checking — almost a necessity with a U.S. presidential election right around the corner.


Allison Carter is editor-in-chief of PR Daily. Follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.



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