Feb 08

The ever-widening accountability gap

There seems to be a growing gap in Corporate America between the image our leading organizations seek to project and the customer service they actually provide.

For example, I’ve recently discussed alarming customer service gaffes by the likes of Sprint and Mercedes-Benz. Now, apparently, we have yet another member of the corporate image hall of shame.

Last Sunday’s New York Times article by Joe Nocera spotlighted the huge gap between the Apple iPod’s image, its actual performance and the company’s horrific customer service. Without going into elaborate detail, suffice it to say that Apple does everything in its power not to provide service to the countless number of iPod owners who have had product quality issues.Ipod

The thing that worries me about the Apple, Sprint and Mercedes-Benz cases is that their corporate communications departments either ignored calls from the media asking for explanations, or simply issued a terse, "no comment."

What’s become of accountability? Do these corporations believe their corporate image campaigns will negate their poor service? Do they think that, by ignoring their customer service issues, the problems will simply go away? American consumers are smarter than that. They have long memories. And, with the advent of the Internet, blogging and other technologies, they have become newly-empowered to decide with whom they’ll spend their hard-earned cash. The more companies abuse their customer relationships, the more likely those customers will find other companies, services and products to partner with.

America’s iconic corporations need to address the accountability gap before it becomes a chasm too wide to close.

Hat tip to Ed Moed for his thoughts.

Feb 08

Pre-empting the competition

Regardless of how one feels about the controversial, highly-secretive Opus Dei sect of the Roman Catholic Church, one has to admire the aggressive, proactive public relations campaign underway to manage its image and reputation.

As most everyone knows, Opus Dei was pilloried in Dan Brown’s blockbuster bestseller "The DaVinci Code." And, while Opus Dei spokespeople defended the organization at the time the book came out, they’ve really shifted into high gear in anticipation of the May 19th movie launch starring Tom Hanks. In just the last 48 hours alone, Opus Dei has been positively profiled on the front page of The New York Times and Good Morning America.

Opus Dei is clearly receiving some very smart counsel. Its campaign is intended to demonstrate how how wrong Brown was and how normal its policies, procedures and people really are.

This is classic crisis communications strategy. By landing the first punch, Opus Dei is helping to frame its image as opposed to allowing the media and the movie to do so later on. It’s a smart move that would make even Mona Lisa break into a big grin.

Feb 06

Mercedes quality and Yugo service

You’d think that with all of their recent quality problems and precipitious drop in the uber-critical JD Power rankings, Mercedes-benz would be hyper-sensitive to perceived quality, service and reputation blemishes.

Which is what makes the plight of Andre Haynes all the more inexplicable. You see, Haynes recently had his Mercedes CL-500 stolen from the Mercedes Silver Star Motor Dealership in Long Island City where he’d brought it in for routine servicing.

As bad as that experience must have been for Mr. Haynes, published reports say dealership employees were not only unapologetic and unhelpful, they even refused to provide him with a loaner car. But, here’s where the image and reputation "speed bump" get really bad. When alerted to the news story, several local media tried contacting the corporate communications folks at Mercedes for an explanation. All they got in response was a "no comment."

Mercedes’ reaction and response to this customer service "breakdown" is a textbook example of what not to do. Especially when the company is trying to re-build its once legendary image.

In summing up, I can only agree with poor Mr. Haynes who described the car company’s customer service as "appalling" and said, "Someone should be accountable. Mercedes-Benz should be accountable." Whoever is responsible for driving Mercedes-Benz’s communications should be pulled over by the image police for having been asleep at the wheel.

Hat tip to Deb Brown for this idea.

Feb 03

The mother of all media gaffes?

The recent controversy thrown up by the decision of several European newspapers to publish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed gives us an interesting insight into the editorial policies of many media outlets.

The row originated in Denmark when the Jyllands-Posten newspaper commissioned and published a series of cartoons, one of which shows Mohammed wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse and another portraying him holding a sword and his eyes covered by a black rectangle. Islam forbids the Prophet to be depicted in any way, let alone in such a degrading manner. The illustrations, published on the front page, were republished in newspapers in Norway, France, Germany, Spain and Italy and have created uproar in the Middle East where Danish products have been boycotted, bomb threats have been made and Syria and Libya have taken diplomatic action.

In covering the story, most European media outlets seem to have adopted one of two strategies. First, front page reprints of the cartoons with accompanying editorial declarations about freedom of speech. This was the the path taken by French newspaper France Soir – and it led to the sacking of the editor. On the other hand, outlets such as the BBC resorted to blurry shots of the cartoons and descriptions of what they show. This, for once, seems to be an example of responsible and tasteful reporting by the media. Whereas some publications have chosen to become part of the story, many have chosen to confine themselves to their primary role, reporting the news.

Hat tip to Carl Foster in Peppercom’s London office for his thoughts.