Right now unfolding before our very eyes is a classic example of a major PR and customer communications disaster that is spinning out of control largely because the company in question, Toyota, waited until it was far too late before admitting that there was any problem at all and taking action.
First there was the issue of the apparently defective accelerators that led to lawsuits in the US and, splashed across the global media, the heart-wrenching story of a family heard on a 911 call to emergency services in the US as they sped into a crash that killed them because their Toyota Lexus was accelerating out of control. You can’t buy publicity that bad.
But Toyota was slow to concede that there was anything seriously wrong with its cars and questions are being raised about how long the company knew about problem. Toyota is now in the midst of the recall of eight million cars worldwide – but attempts to deal directly with the issue by the company have come only after the story has snowballed.
Now there is the additional story of the recall of nearly half a million Toyota hybrids due to faulty brakes, the ramifications of which will be compounded by Toyota’s slow handling of the accelerator recall crisis.
Toyota could have been proactive about its safety problems as soon as word began to spread but waited until the media bandwagon started rolling with the momentum of a rocket ship before deciding to take firm and open action. Companies today just can’t wait for a situation to reach crisis point before taking action to deal with the fears, concerns and questions of their customers.
In today’s world, where the lightening speed of communications on the internet magnifies much smaller problems than Toyota is facing, preparing to deal with the spectre of a major recall or safety alert before things start to spin out of control is vital. A brand may take a hit – maybe a big financial hit – by being up front and admitting if it has a problem, but this will help to mitigate longer-term damage and distrust that could ultimately be much more costly. And it has to have call centre capabilities and a contact strategy it can roll out quickly.
One of our clients, Blueview, has been beating this drum for a while now. As a company specialising in multi-channel communication and contact, Blueview sees having a contingency plan in place in case a recall crisis breaks as vital. Existing customer contact facilities are never enough to deal with the flood of queries that comes in when a major recall or safety alert is announced.
To showcase Blueview’s expertise in this area, we have worked with the agency to put together a research report on product recall management, the results of which were widely reported in the media, and also a how-to guide that shows how a company can prepare for and tackle a crisis.
If a company can at least have enough people in place to take calls and reassure its customers – or at least tell them where they stand with respect to a product problem – while its PR team is talking to them openly in the media and through online channels, then it stands a much better chance of recovering from a major recall crisis sooner. And the sooner a company tackles a problem the better. Unfortunately for Toyota, it seems to be just learning this lesson now.