All eyes on how Ford han­dles the burn­ing ques­tions

The Star Early Edition - - OPIN­ION & ANAL­Y­SIS - Rich Mkhondo

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.

PHOTO: AP

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.

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