How to Handle a Recall: What to Learn from GM’s PR Pain

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Recalls are common, however, cases where products caused loss of life are rare and should be treated carefully. There’s no greater PR nightmare than a product that causes death – and decapitation, no less.

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One thing’s for sure, General Motors Co. (GM) could tell you how not to handle this delicate issue based on its recent global recall of 2.6 million car models implicated in 13 driver deaths. Read on for what to learn from GM’s retraction ruins.

Always Heed Warning Signs

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GM engineer accounts from way back in 2001 highlighted many of the issues that are now commonly associated with the company’s recalled cars – including important ignition and stalling issues.

What’s worse? In the instances where the engineers did heed the warning signs, Band-Aid solutions (instead of recalls) were often applied to fix the problem. Furthermore, many key employees were not properly notified of the found issues, resulting in egregious miscommunications.

How to Get it Right: If you absolutely can’t afford to recall a product that you’re not 100 percent certain is faulty, then at least communicate warning signs to front-line employees. Service and support providers should know about potential complications if only to alert management to continued defects.

Act Immediately

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GM’s ordeal probably wouldn’t have incited as much outrage if the company wasn’t so slow to respond. Since warning signs existed as early as 2001 and continued to surface until 2013, the company had plenty of time to make a move for recall.

In fact, it wasn’t until 2013 that the company began to consider recalling vehicles from 2007. Not only does this express GM’s neglect for public safety, but it shows potential disregard for highway safety laws.

How to Get it Right: If a product doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. However nervous you may be about losing thousands or even millions over a recall, remember this: bad PR and lawsuits can result in double the damages – especially for small businesses.

Apologize the Right Way

Yes, there is a right way and a (horribly) wrong way to express regret, and yes, you may want to speak to your lawyer first; however, make sure you don’t rehearse cold, legal terms from some pre-approved document.

In the case of GM’s recall, the company’s CEO Mary Barra might as well have said: I’m sorry you feel that way.To many, the apology came across more like a defensive company testimonial rather than honest condolences for the actual families affected by the various auto tragedies. In an interview, Barra said, “We will hold ourselves accountable and improve our processes so our customers do not experience this again.”

How to Get it Right: Whatever the reason for your recall, do add warmth to your incident statements, and acknowledge the actual people (not “customers”) who were impacted by the faulty product.

Merchandise, especially automobiles, can become a part of a lifestyle. Address exactly how your product fits into your patrons’ routines and exactly what they lost when the item failed. This will help your customers align more positively with the mistake and begin to accept it.

Has your company ever gone through the recall process? What was the biggest challenge? Share your stories in the comments below. [/show_to]

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