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Ford South Africa's Lesson On How Not To Deal With A Crisis

The safety recall is like bolting the stable door after the horse has bolted. Brand reputation and customer confidence have taken a bad beating.

17/01/2017 12:05 SAST | Updated 17/01/2017 14:41 SAST
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The announcement of a safety recall of the Ford Kuga 1.6 Ecoboost by Ford SA chief executive Jeff Nemeth made at media briefing on Monday was long overdue. It was also a spectacular example of how not to manage a brand crisis.

It has taken 13 months to the day since the first incident occurred, which allegedly resulted in the death of a motorist, which Ford SA has not yet accepted.

The safety recall is like bolting the stable door after the horse has bolted. Brand reputation has taken a tough and almost daily beating, customer confidence has taken a huge knock and probably, so have the future sales of the Ford Kuga brand.

Customer service is not rocket science, even though many consumer facing companies in South Africa make it appear to be so. As I have written before, crisis communication requires pro-active management of an issue, particularly if it has the potential to cause lasting and harmful damage to a brand and customer confidence.

What Ford has done is to give South African companies a valuable lesson in how not to deal with a crisis, and on how to act when a crisis occurs. Ford's management team have acted too late, and have a reputational mountain to climb while they conduct safety checks on the affected Ford Kuga vehicles, and ensuring that no such incidences repeat again. The company has to focus on restoring customer confidence and trust, and ensure that its soiled brand image is polished again.

The advent of social media has created a platform for immediate customer activism which – unless dealt with - can build or destroy a brand with just one 140-character tweet or a Facebook post.

But in some instances, once brand trust is broken or lost, it can be difficult to regain, particularly for companies whose management is seen to be insular to customer concerns and service. Customers in South Africa are becoming more vocal when mistreated or sold products they deem to be either flawed or not meeting their expected performance standards.

The advent of social media has created a platform for immediate customer activism which – unless dealt with - can build or destroy a brand with just one 140-character tweet or a Facebook post. Companies will have to be more pro-active in responding to customer complaints, and most importantly be seen to be doing something about beyond using call centre agents to regurgitate prepared answers.

Late as it is, Ford SA has the opportunity to demonstrate that the company is committed to customer service and safety. While it may be cold comfort for the 39 Ford Kuga vehicle owners, and the family alleging their relative died after failing to escape from a burning vehicle, it is a welcome start.

The National Consumer Commission should not escape criticism. It is inexplicable that it took the commission this long to react, particularly when someone died, allegedly because he could not escape form a burning vehicle. One would expect that this is a lesson too on how to be more pro-active and robust to deal with similar or even worse incidents. It should also consider conducting public awareness of consumer rights and how they can lodge complaints. This will provide another platform for consumers to bring errant companies to book.