All eyes on how Ford handles the burning questions
HOW will Ford recover from the crisis around its Kuga model, regain its reputation, credibility, competitive position, attract new customers and retain old ones, and be welcomed back into the fold, with their reputation restored?
Ford and companies of its ilk should be heartened by the fact that most people, particularly customers, tend to be forgiving, especially where there has been no malice or a deliberate attempt to sabotage or deceive.
However, what is important is how quickly they own up to mistakes and do whatever it takes to put things right and rebuild the broken trust. After all, trust takes years to build, and moments to destroy.
While a corporate executive, I too was behind the scenes in high-stakes crisis situations. I have said a little prayer for Ford Kuga owners, the deceased’s family and the company as they struggle to rebuild the battered trust barometer.
Just to recap: we know that Ford‘s reputation in South Africa is in tatters because of how it handled the communication around how 48 Ford Kuga utility vehicles burst into flames and a motorist died while trapped inside his burning vehicle.
The first step for any organisation is to anticipate possible crises and create action plans. Every organisation should have a crisis plan and ensure that the bosses at mahogany row and employees know their parts. We know that once the crisis hits, the organisation or company’s leader must immediately step up and demonstrate strong leadership.
Let us all agree that any company’s communicators are the antennae of its operation. That does not mean corporate communicators should be the only department doing that. It is sound business to build a culture that encourages the long view, where employees – in Ford’s case, the mechanics and engineers – are encouraged to anticipate issues and bring them to the fore.
Communicators concur that the big challenge in crisis and reputation and planning is sorting through all the information to end up with usable intelligence to prevent an escalating crises because, indeed, proactive crisis management and mitigation includes a more deliberate process of identifying risks and issues early and managing them before they escalate to crisis levels.
The company must step forward to offer customers something substantial that demonstrates regret and a desire to win back their loyalty.
Speed is everything
Of course, every corporate executive knows that when dealing with a crisis that impacts a company’s reputation, speed is everything. What must Ford do to recover from the crisis and regain its reputation and credibility? How can every chief executive, corporate executive, ensure crisis management procedures are in place and well maintained, and capturing and sharing lessons learned by senior management from the Ford fiasco?
To rebuild the trust and maintain a sustainable future after a crisis or disaster, companies and organisations must recognise more and more that crisis management must be an institutionalised culture.
Best practice shows that integrating issues and risk management with crisis management enhances organisational resilience and vigilance. However, it’s a pity that risk management, crisis management and business continuity are often managed independently by different functions. This lack of co-ordination often generates gaps and or overlaps in processes, which reduce overall effectiveness. Who knows this is what happened at Ford.
To provide an integrated approach to crisis anticipation, prevention, mitigation and recovery, it is essential to assign ownership of the communication to a departmental custodian and embed it into corporate management planning and culture.
Enough with the background on crisis management procedures. How can Ford or any company facing a similar crisis regain trust and be welcomed back into the fold with their reputation restored?
It is critical that Ford delivers on its promises, whatever they are. The company must step forward to offer customers something substantial that demonstrates regret and desire to win back their loyalty. Give them something they don’t expect and do it as soon as possible.
The quickest way to erode trust is to say things and then not follow through with your actions. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver than vice-versa.
If you are unable to keep your promise – for whatever reason – then being upfront and transparent about this can still be a trustworthy act.
Also, trying to pass the buck and avoid responsibility rarely wins any business or company any points. A brand is a promise, and reputation is all about keeping that promise. This is what customers expect.
Here another important point: Never, under any circumstances, underestimate a customer’s intelligence. Once a bad experience happens, as company, it’s your job to make up for it with the best service possible. Then, a customer can tell people that you made it right.
While no one can completely prevent a crisis, everyone has the chance to handle it well and maintain loyal customers. Even in a situation like the Ford Kuga debacle, where people have clearly been upset, any company or organisation has a chance to recover.
Rich Mkhondo runs The Media and Writers Firm (www.mediaandwritersfirm.com), a content development and reputation management hub.
A Ford Kuga owned by Warren Krog burns out in Alberton in this file picture. Ford Motor Company South Africa says it’s recalling 4 556 Kuga vehicles following several dozen reports of the car catching fire. The writer questions the time it took Ford to react.