I’ll never forget – as a young television reporter in 1982 for ABC affiliate KTEN TV in Ada, Oklahoma – first hearing about the Tylenol Murders. Somehow, numerous bottles of Extra-Strength Tylenol had been poisoned. At first, the scare (understandably) caused a nosedive in sales. However, the expert, amazingly-transparent manner in which it was handled by Johnson & Johnson leadership not only stopped the sales hemorrhage, but actually resulted in in the company’s consumer trust level going sky high, which has continued to this day.
Unfortunately, not all companies – even those with a proven track record of quality – handle every situation so well.
My great friend, Libby Gill, former Branding Brain for the Dr. Phil Show and author of three excellent books, shares with us her thoughts about one company that fell short of the mark:
“As former PR chief and spokesperson for Sony, Universal and Turner Broadcasting, I did my fair share of spin doctoring and damage control with the press. So I’ve been watching Toyota’s media circus regarding the “sudden acceleration” in the Camry, Prius and Lexus like a hawk.
“Now that Toyota’s CEO has issued a public apology, it looks like they’re on the way to digging out of the negative press. They’re a good company with a strong track record, so I have no doubt they’ll eventually recover. But they made a critical error that could have been avoided. And it’s one that you should avoid at all costs.
“Instead of being proactive, Toyota was reactive. They waited until the pressure was on – and 19 people had died – before they acknowledged their responsibility. As the PR pro’s would say, they failed to get in front of the story. Instead, they responded because they had to, not because they cared about their customers. At least that’s the way it looks.
“The lesson for all of us, entrepreneurs and executives alike, is that it’s not just how you deal with a problem, but when you deal with it that counts. If you make a mistake, you’ve got to step up, be accountable and fix it immediately. In fact, it’s the immediacy with which you take corrective action that creates the perception of caring in the minds of your customers.
Libby Gill is an executive coach, international speaker and author of the bestselling You Unstuck: Mastering the New Rules of Risk-taking in Work and Life. You can learn more about her and even join her coaching community.