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Everyone has heard of the crisis involving the Toyota recall, but many small business owners don’t realize crisis management skills are important for them as well. Big companies like Toyota have significant resources to rebuild their reputations; small businesses are less likely to. What should you do if a customer complains about injuries allegedly caused by using your products? Below are some suggestions for how to deal with this type of situation:
1. Reduce the ambiguity associated with the situation. Try to find out the cause of the problem. If the company is at fault, it is important to acknowledge this as soon as possible. First, by apologizing and compensating the customer, you reduce the likelihood of the customer contacting the media and spreading negative word of mouth. Second, identifying the source of the problem enables you to take corrective action that prevents injuries to other customers.
2. Respond to the media promptly. If the customer has already contacted the media, it is very important to respond as soon as possible. If you don’t give your side of the story promptly, the media will have no choice but to frame the story through the lens of the harmed customer.
3. If you find the customer was at fault for the injury, communicate this as soon as possible. Provide evidence to the customer supporting the company’s position, and be prepared to share this information with other stakeholders as well (media, regulatory agencies, etc.). Whereas it is important for a company to be firm, it is also important not to go overboard. If a company goes too far in criticizing a customer, it could face a backlash from other customers.
Associate Professor of Marketing
New York City
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