For all manufacturing companies there comes a time when the brand will be tested. Each test represents a fork in the road that can drastically shape a company’s future, and in some extreme cases, end it. For many organizations, at least one of these tests will come in the form of a product recall. Whether the company will suffer irreparable damage or ultimately strengthen its brand identity hinges on how prepared the organization is to handle all aspects of the recall. This type of crisis has many components that must be handled expertly, such as, communication to customers and distributors, liaison with regulatory bodies, and product retrieval and destruction.
The Need for Speed
There is no room for error and little time for maneuvering during a recall when even the slightest misstep can have dramatic, lasting repercussions. Particularly in today’s hyper-connected world where customers, the media and other influencers can communicate via social channels in real-time, brands cannot afford to be unprepared in the event of a recall.
Speed and efficiency are of the essence and the best way to achieve them is through a solid plan of action. Companies that lack a recall plan or try to manage all of the logistics of a recall in-house risk prolonging the process, and often take their eye off other key business objectives in order to deal with the crisis.
It’s All About The Communication
The cornerstone of a good recall preparation plan is a solid communication strategy. There are numerous stakeholders affected by recalls, all with different needs and communication preferences. Companies that take stock of these needs, determine the respective communication strategies and channels, and delegate responsibilities in advance of a recall event are the best prepared to respond efficiently and mitigate any risk.
Due to the regulations that guide recalls, it’s critical that all affected parties receive notification. Of course, the specifics of recall messaging cannot be determined until an event occurs. However, in the preparation stage companies can determine the pipelines through which they want information to flow and how they will scale quickly to manage the logistics of a recall.
One key in designing a communications pipeline is ensuring customers are involved early. Wielding the latest innovations in consumer technology, customers can connect and disseminate information in real-time. This sets the stage for misinformation to spread rapidly and cause tensions to escalate quickly. If that happens, the employees handling the recall are putting out fires instead of focusing their attention on important steps in the recall process.
Ideally information should flow both ways in a pipeline. It’s important that the designated recall coordinator and management team are listening to customers throughout the process and being mindful of their feedback. After all, their safety and trust are two of the critical components of an effective recall.
Being a step ahead of the consumer is always the ideal situation, however, sometimes organizations are forced to react quickly. The good news is that the Internet and social media can enable a company to tell its story before their customers do. A comprehensive crisis preparation plan will ensure designated spokespeople are prepared to address situations as they arise and stay engaged throughout the recall process.
Information gets buried fast in the realm of social media so organizations must consistently publish information to stay at the top of search results. A good way to do this is by linking back to static sources of information, such as corporate websites or custom landing pages, that provide a credible source of information that can be easily accessed by consumers and quickly updated by the organization.
When it’s time to determine a company’s messaging during a recall, honesty and transparency are paramount. Consumer trust is quickly eroded and once it’s gone it can be nearly impossible to regain, especially in a crowded market with the competition waiting to capture customers from the fallout. Even if you have the best of intentions, the risk of operating behind closed doors is too great. Virtually every person walking around today has a phone with a camera and multiple messaging platforms.
If you don’t tell the true story, someone else will. Inconsistent messaging also allows for speculation, and in the height of a recall it is not uncommon for there to be variations in statements. However, if you’ve been honest and proactive this confusion can be easily rectified and your brand protected.
Regulatory Body Correspondence
A recall plan must also incorporate key communication strategies for liaising with regulatory agencies. Having the correct contact information for quick responses is mandatory. Also, the strategy should include the proper procedures for communicating with those agencies to ensure they get the information they require in a timely manner.
Regarding the product itself, accurate and accessible production records will enable an organization to quickly identify the scope and scale of a recall. This will aid in disseminating information quickly in the early stages and will also help prevent the need to expand the recall later on. Recall expansions expose a brand to more damage by drawing out a very public process. Accurate production records also enable companies to isolate the affected product while keeping other units in the supply chain for sale. Then they can conduct on-site effectiveness checks to ensure that only the affected products have been removed from store shelves.
A delayed or partial response can give the impression that the organization does not want to interrupt sales and may be more concerned with the bottom line than safety. To that end, organizations must carefully weigh the specifics of the scope of a recall and act in a thorough manner.
The last step with any crisis preparation plan is practice. Remember, the ability to react quickly is one of the main reasons for having the plan. No one should be reading it for the first time when a recall hits. A simulated recall run through provides an opportunity to work out any kinks and spot potential issues that may not have been previously apparent.
A recall is a trying time for a brand. By handling the event efficiently, honestly and quickly, companies will bounce back and be poised for long-term success. A well thought out plan backed by experience is the first step towards ensuring that the process will be as painless as possible. In today’s world, recalls are an everyday occurrence. Being ready will not only protect the brand but will minimize impact to the bottom line.
Kevin Pollack is vice president of recalls with ExpertRECALL, which serves customers’ needs and helps companies mitigate risks associated with reputation management.