Silence is far from golden

The Business Continuity Institute

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Farzad Henareh explains how an effectively managed product recall event can serve to enhance brand loyalty, but preparation and constant communication are key.

It might sound counterintuitive to suggest that a product recall could present an opportunity to interact more closely with customers. But for the enterprising organisation, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that, handled in the right way, a recall not only reinforces brand identity through outgoing communication, but also demands an incoming response, which helps to build a new dialogue with customers.

In the past, companies have been reluctant to enter the recall process, worried that their brand will suffer by being associated with a problem. In fact, the opposite is now true, and if a recall is handled efficiently and quickly customers will understand the situation and may even be impressed by the quality of customer service. We carried out a survey with YouGov last year amongst 2,000 Great British adults which illustrated this point. Of the total, 69% agreed that companies who plan a product recall carefully and take action before they are forced to do so by law are considered smart. Two thirds agreed that a product recall showed that the company valued quality.

Establishing a communication strategy

Having said that, it is crucial to ensure that the recall is managed well. Apart from the immediate financial implications, a product retrieval can be very costly to a brand’s reputation. To protect the integrity of the brand, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and any other link in the supply chain must ensure that a communication strategy is agreed in advance, and any customer-facing representatives whether internal or through a third party, act as an effective extension of their team. Generally speaking, it’s five times more expensive to win a new customer than it is to retain one, so having a proactive product retrieval plan with clear communication in place is vital.

It’s important that all parties meet the highest quality standards and that they document every step of the process; from decisions about how to inform customers about the recall to collecting, transporting and storing products with a secure chain of command, and handling subsequent product testing or product recalls in a regulatory compliant manner. Clear communication is everything. It takes no time for one customer’s complaint to spread, particularly given the power of social media and the ability for messages to go viral in today’s global marketplace.

An opportunity to enhance loyalty

The way that customers are managed during the recall process can have a major impact on long-term customer satisfaction and their loyalty to the brand. The stakes are high, so it is imperative that whether a recall is being handled internally, or through a dedicated contact centre, preparation is made to manage the influx of calls and questions.

Good experiences with brand representatives can enhance a customer’s loyalty; however, negative experiences can extend far beyond the affected customers. Imagine a customer has a poor experience with a contact centre representative, and then discusses that experience in the heat of the moment on social media. One disgruntled customer has spread the word to all their connections, who now potentially share that experience as well. At this point, the organisation’s image is in danger. Take that customer and multiply them by others having the same frustrating experience when they call, the brand is now in an unnecessary crisis.

To avoid a customer service nightmare, there are some simple tips to follow that will deliver the optimal customer experience during a product recall:

1) Staffing the contact centre

In the initial days of a recall, assigned contact teams or centres often experience an influx of calls that extend well beyond their normal capacity. Preparing for this in advance can eliminate lengthy hold times, disconnected calls and may help to increase recall participation. Third-party providers who are clearly briefed on the communications strategy can help with the influx of calls and allow the brand to focus on its core business.

2) Remember geographic scale and different languages

In today’s complex global supply chain, the possibility of needing multi-lingual contact centre representatives is very real. If customers can’t understand a representative, they won’t be able to return the product or arrange for it to be repaired, leaving the organisation open to low recall response rates, possible regulatory compliance issues and potential legal action from consumers. In addition, contact centres should utilise a multi-lingual recall website to accommodate all affected customers.

3) Train centre staff as extensions of your brand

In times of crisis, communications with customers must be accurate, timely, and consistent. Contact centre representatives, whether internal or external, need thorough training to provide relevant recall information and ensure the customer experience is seamless. Even one representative providing misinformation can damage the brand, especially when safety issues are involved. Third-party providers can help, however their staff must be trained as extensions of the brand and this should also be event-specific to streamline the call process. Customers should not be able to decipher between the brand and an external contact centre.

If a recall is imminent and a contact centre is to be appointed, companies are advised to discuss training protocols, scalability, technology and capabilities upfront to ensure their brand has the best representation.

The key is to act quickly, be clear about what message is to be communicated to the customer and ensure their experience is front and centre of you’re the recall strategy. You may have only one chance to make a great impression.

Ineffective recalls

Not all recalls go well. Ineffective recall execution is usually ascribed to the lack of adequate preparation on the part of manufacturers and retailers, poor communication with customers and the inability to promptly and efficiently remove recalled products from the supply chain. But in this new era of accountability, there is little room for compromise or inefficiency because public safety always has to come first. You only have to look at the recent media frenzy regarding hoverboards, and the prompt reaction from major retailers, such as Argos and Amazon in recalling potentially dangerous models, to understand how much consideration they give to their own customers’ safety.

No brand can afford to make mistakes because in the age of digital communication, social media and online forums customer choice is not only broader but more fickle too. These days it takes a lot more to keep consumers loyal, and any mistake can be broadcast far and wide very quickly, as many scandal-struck companies have found to their detriment. Most businesses caught in the middle of a Twitter storm will tell you that regardless of how leading their brand, it only takes a few seconds to give it a very good bashing.

The benefits of being open

By being proactive and initiating voluntary recalls, businesses can avoid a lot of the negativity associated with the process. Manufacturers and retailers who handle a recall successfully have a unique chance to enhance their brand as well as protect it. When businesses voluntarily recall a product, they are demonstrating that customer safety is their top priority, and highlighting that clear and transparent communication with customers is the key to resolving difficult recall situations.

Companies must begin to view a recall as a positive opportunity to engage with customers and provide great service, rather than as a negative situation that needs to be suppressed. People will forgive mistakes, as long as they’re managed efficiently. Things can and will go wrong, but it’s the response to and remediation of the recall event which can make or break a brand.

Farzad Henareh is European managing director of Stericycle ExpertSOLUTIONS

Continuity coverThis article first appeared in the 2016 Q2 edition of Continuity – The Magazine of the Business Continuity Institute. To download your free copy, just click here.