Three Steps to Protect Customer Confidence?

There have been a number of tragic events lately in various industries – oil refining, mining, automotive, pharmaceuticals, commercial airlines – to name a few. In each of these instances severe injuries and/or fatalities of employees, customers and the general public occurred creating public outrage over what happened to those involved and how it might have affected others – even themselves. The public focus is immediately on the CEO or prominent company leader who will use a public relations firm to provide media coaching for damage control to deal with immediate events and public perception. Coaching to deal with the public image deals with the short term exposure and many CEO’s are very effective at coming forward, expressing concern and, when necessary, publicly directing company resources to take immediate action to remove product, stop distribution and take other measures necessary to win over public confidence.

However, what can really undercut and compromise all of this upfront effort to put a good face on the reaction to the incident is what emerges as either the company or, in the case of a regulated industry such as airlines, an outside investigator discovers internal company practices that were not being followed and were the principle factor in causing the tragic event.

Here are three positive steps that can be taken to make sure that your company is doing all it can to avoid the unthinkable from happening?

  1. Process control: Unfortunately too many businesses do not have adequate control of their business processes. Adherence and compliance with procedures and regulations take a back seat to expediency and cost control. Executive management does not reinforce the importance of critical process control points by their inattention to detail, which sends the wrong signals into the organization.
  2. Listening: Too often indications of pending problems are well known to people in the organization but it is not popular to voice concern or become a squeaky wheel. “Whistle blowers” as they are often called are overlooked and dismissed as being uninformed or troublemakers. Executive management is responsible for the company culture that will either encourage open feedback and quick resolution or suppression and inaction.
  3. Training: Adequate and consistent training of new or transferred employees that reflect current practices, procedures and business conditions is paramount. Updating training programs and timely refresh training can become a lower priority particularly during times of business economic stress puts all employees on deck to meet business needs.

Total avoidance of the unthinkable happening is not possible. Things happen and people can still make mistakes, equipment can fail in unusual ways and it is always possible to experience the perfect storm of events. However, too many highly public industrial accidents are later determined to have been caused by fundamental operations that could have been controlled. Basic practices broke down, people were not listening (or taking action) when told of bad conditions or people did not recognize what to do in circumstances where better training would have prepared them to handle the events successfully.

Consequently the investment to look good in front of the media is short lived as the true story is later revealed and does real damage to company image, brand and more, importantly, customer confidence.

Leave a Reply